Thursday, June 23, 2011

Submitting Patents Online

Yesterday's big project was submitting my patent application for the Delegate Key Exchange scheme I presented at RSA.

Working round the USPTO EFS system is still a real chore. One of the biggest problems being preparing the PDF to comply with their requirements. The Windows PDF generator is not listed as one of the ones that is acceptable so I first tried to install the distiller that the USPTO recommends. This turns out to not work at all on Windows 7.

Try number 2 was to try using Open Office. This was pretty much a disaster as OpenOffice couldn't parse the references in my Word document and lost all the reference numbers in the claims section and it didn't rotate the landscape diagrams to meet the PTO requirements.

To add insult to injury I remembered the reason that I uninstalled OpenOffice with prejudice last time I used it (on the provisional). It is one of those programs with an updater but the update invariably fails to retrieve the files it needs. Probably due to not having the right permissions. And unlike most other updaters it does not have a 'do not update' option. For the time being I have just disabled running the program on startup which is an obnoxious feature in itself. Why would I want to have over a Mb of code that always loads to support a program I am not running? If I get any more nag screens the whole Java system is going in the bin.

So anyway, after discovering that Word cannot rotate the diagrams I made I ended up having to recreate them using cut and paste into Powerpoint (which can handle rotation properly). First time round this was rejected by EFSWeb as well. Then I found an option to create standards compliant PDF.

I have the feeling I could have avoided the whole performance by just selecting that option in Word in the first place.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Salvador Dalek gets his exterminator gun.

Salvador is complete and has moved into my office.


I recently received my Netduino

Netdulino is a small computer designed for interfacing to hardware. It is very much like the Ardulino only with a faster processor (32 bit rather than 8) and supports the Microsoft .Net technology.

.Net is a really good match for this sort of board as the CLR is designed to allow for code to be compiled at deployment time for any processor with a CLR compiler. So in theory programs written in .NET could be moved from one Netdulino to another without the need to access the source code.

.Net also provides a full features programming environment (Visual Studio Express is free) and you can even choose between imperative (C# / Basic) or functional programming styles. These are full featured compilers with no compromises. You don't have to spend your time thinking about weird restrictions on integer sizes, register use or whatever. Any C# source will work fine without modification.

Getting started was pretty quick once the files were all installed. I had the LED blinking in about half an hour, most of which was spent downloading stuff.

The only drawback with this approach is that once you blink the LED there is not much more that can be done without getting some electronic components to interface to. I have ordered some LEDs, motors and a grab bag of other stuff from Jameco and Solarbotics.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Pakistan rejects complicity in bin Laden case - Central & South Asia - Al Jazeera English

So 'Pakistan rejects complicity in bin Laden case'

Well they would, wouldn't they? But the US press account seems determined to make this a dispute between the US and Pakistani governments when in reality it is a dispute between the democratically elected politicians and anti-democratic factions in the military.

Neither Bin Laden nor the Taleban were ever popular in Pakistan. Musharraf, their main supporter in Pakistan was never popular either, he seized power in a coup and lost it the first time there was a democratic election.

The reason the Pakistani government needs to tread cautiously and appear to resist certain types of US pressure is not fear of domestic Taleban/Al Qaeda supporters. Even though they do exist, they never voted for Benhazir Bhutto's party anyway. The reason they have to be cautious is the risk of a military coup.

So it probably suits the Pakistani government to appear to be under pressure from the US to perform a purge of the military. It gives them a pretext to 'reluctantly' do what they would like to in any case. Just as Pakistan has to officially appear affronted at the invasion of its sovereignty in the killing of Bin Laden while being rather glad he is eliminated. The Taleban imposed a far more humiliating infringement on Pakistani sovereignty when they occupied and effectively rulled the Swatt valley for a period.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Pa. suit: Furniture rental co. spies on PC users  |

Umm, what made someone think this would be legal?

Pa. suit: Furniture rental co. spies on PC users

The rental company appears to have a clueless lawyer who imagines attack is the best form of defense:

Aaron's, which bills itself as the nation's leader in the sales and lease ownership of residential furniture, consumer electronics and home appliances, said the lawsuit was meritless. It said it respects its customers' privacy and hasn't authorized any of its corporate stores to install the software described in the lawsuit.
It does not take a legal genius to see that the plaintif suffered an injury here. The only question is who is liable. Since the employee had knowledge of the spying software and the employee was acting for the store, it is very hard to see how Aaron's could not be liable.

Aaron's best chance to avoid class action status would be to persuade the court that this is an isolated incident and it is anxious to repair the damage. Describing the suit as meritless does not seem a good way to achieve that.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Authenticating Bin Laden's Body

Josh Marshall ponders the question of whether the US should release photos of Bin Laden's body.

That is a good question but one that at this stage probably has no good answer. Given the number of 'birthers' peddling a crackpot conspiracy theory about the President's place of birth I can well imagine members of Al Qaeda engaging in similar denial of the obvious. It is even possible, likely even that the same unscrupulous US politicians who saw advantage in pandering to birtherism will see benefit in claiming Bin Laden's death is a hoax.

So a better question would be how to provide proof beyond an unreasonable doubt that someone is dead.

One way to do this would be to use numbered, sealed tamper-evident bags. These are produced by several suppliers and were originally used for demonstrating that cash deposits have not been tampered with by couriers. A store keeper puts their takings in the bag notes the serial number and gives it to the courier. They then call the recipient and tell them the serial number of the bag. When the courier gives the bag to the recipient they check the serial number of the bag is correct and that it has not been tampered with.

The bags are made of a fairly durable but thin plastic and are self sealing with an incredibly strong glue that cannot be parted without leaving evidence. Some bags have a tamper evident strip in the glue so that the bag says 'void' if opened.

These bags are used to establish the chain of custody for evidence in criminal trials.

So a basic protocol for establishing the death of BinLaden would be

  1. Secure the area
  2. Determine Bin Laden is dead
  3. Cover most of body with sheet
  4. Begin recording proceedings with video camera providing notarial authentication
  5. Take tissue sample from body
  6. Place tissue sample in evidence bag
  7. Note serial number of bag
  8. Seal bag
  9. Stop recording
  10. Place video camera in evidence bag
  11. Transfer bags to laboratory
  12. Begin recording of proceedings with video camera providing notarial authentication
  13. Remove samples
  14. Extract DNA
  15. Print out DNA analysis
  16. Stop recording
  17. Publish all data

The serial numbers are unique but an unreasonable doubter could assert that the producer had been suborned into producing unnumbered bags and the number added later. So a way to provide additional proof that the evidence has not been tampered with would be to use two bags, one inside the other and put one or more bank notes, preferably from different countries inside the outer bag but not the inner. The serial numbers on the bank notes would then be used to provide additional proof that the evidence had not been tampered with.

It is my belief that the US government has already eliminated all reasonable doubt that Bin Laden has been killed. Does the protocol I propose eliminate unreasonable doubt as well? I would hope so but some people will dispute even the most indisputable facts.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Bin Laden in hiding

So bin Laden wasn't hiding in a cave after all. Who would have thought that?

Well quite a few people actually because a cave is not a particularly good place for a person needing daily medical treatment to hide. Bin Laden's kidney failure meant that he needed dialysis. That is difficult to perform in a cave and would require a constant flow of medical supplies.

Hiding in plain sight was probably Bin Laden's best option.

Why choose a military town? Well where else could you construct a fortified building without attracting attention?

Bin Laden's security precautions would be quite unusual by US suburban standards. But not so much in a garrison town close to Afghanistan and Kashmir. A lot of the buildings in the area have high walls to stop eyes looking at the womenfolk. The builders would not have known that they were building screens to hide a man rather than a woman.

Bin Laden also appears to have been pretty disciplined in keeping a low profile. He kept his personal contact with the outside world to the absolute minimum compatible with still maintaining some influence in Al Qaeda.

While he was bricked up in his hideout, Bin Laden was relatively safe. But being bricked up also meant that he could not recruit, plan or train. Some are claiming that this means that eliminating Bin Laden will have minimal impact on the ability of Al Qaeda to act and that the 'war on terror' is therefore going to continue.

This is a complete misreading of the situation in my view. Bin Laden was irrelevant to Al Qaeda's operations because there haven't been any since 9/11. Terrorist movements splinter and fracture constantly. The original goal of 9/11 was to get other jihadists to unite around Bin Laden's banner. If Al Qaeda exists in any meaningful sense it has been run by someone else for the past five years. Most likely Al Zawahiri. But I suspect that it is more than likely that when Zawahiri is eliminated he will be found in similar circumstances.

The attacks attributed to 'Al Qaeda' since 9/11 have all been planned and executed without any contribution from Bin Laden's organization. Some of the participants have ties to people who run in the same circles, but thats all. That is not a 'franchise', thats not a 'subsidiary', thats another group co-opting a brand that has already gained recognition.

Eliminating Bin Laden is a major blow in the 'War on Terror' because the whole concept was absurd and counterproductive. Bin Laden wanted to be taken seriously as an enemy. He wanted to be treated as an equal. And Bush and his administration obliged. Now they are claiming the credit for the elimination of Bin Laden, the Arab awakening in North Africa and everything else that is positive that has occurred since Obama took office. Not surprisingly there is not one thing that occurred during their watch that they have accepted blame for.

Bush's claim to have inspired the Arab awakening are as absurd as Bin Laden's. His goal was to perpetuate and extend US control of the region at any cost. He was entirely indifferent to the interests of the people living there and to the number of deaths he caused to achieve his goal.

Bin Laden did at least recognize that the region is ruled by regimes that are unrepresentative, brutal and corrupt. But his ultimate objective was of course to replace those regimes with one that would have no representation, be even more brutal and make the corruption absolute. Very few of the protesters in Egypt were calling for Bin Laden's vision of the future. Bin Laden's position provided Bush with convenient cover for his own. Opposition to the corrupt dictatorships of the region was automatically equated with support for Bin Laden's caliphate.

The removal of Bin Laden alone might not have ended the 'War on Terror', but it does give Obama the credibility to address this issue on his own terms without constant interference from the Republican party.

The removal of Bin Laden in combination with the events of the Arab Awakening have the potential to transform the region completely. Without the bogeyman Bin Laden, the dictators and despots are going to find it much harder to resist change.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Dalek!

Salvador Dalek nears completion.

Now I have a Dalek, why not let him work in the workshop for me? He seems quite at home there.

Of course, that is how I made some of the parts. Printed by shapeways for $44.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Asking the wrong question

The New York Times debates Why didn't the US foresee the Arab revolts?

Why would this fact be a surprise? Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi failed to foresee the same revolts despite committing far greater resources to the task.

How do we even know if the premise of the question is correct? I am not on the President's reading list for Top Secret intelligence and neither is the New York Times. If the intelligence services had been predicting the collapse of these miserable dictatorships I would hope that they would keep it to themselves.

All six of the 'experts' asked to comment on the question assume that its premise must be correct and that had the US predicted the revolts they should have somehow acted to prevent them.

That was certainly the old model of US foreign policy: Propping up dictators in the name of 'stability'.

As the past four weeks proved, it didn't work.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ahmedinejad's view

The Washington Post should really stop giving Ahmedinejad's shills space to write about the Middle East.

The Leverett's are a couple who used to do foreign policy for the neo-cons but for mysterious (ormore likely banal) reasons suddenly started spouting the Iranian government line in a series of tendentious opinion pieces.

According to the Leveretts, the Iranian elections were not stolen and Iran is poised to emerge more powerful as a regional player as Egypt defects from US control and thus submits to Iran's sphere of influence.

In European terms, this is like suggesting that Germany would be part of the sphere of influence of Ukraine. Egypt has a larger population than Iran, an economy that is diversified beyond oil and controls the Suez canal. In the highly unlikely event that Sunni Egypt would want to form an alliance with Shi'ia Iran under theocratic control, it is clear that Iran, not Egypt would be the junior partner.

While US influence in the region may have declined as a result of the changes of the past four weeks, the only point of having influence is to protect interests. And the interests of the US and the Western world in general are much better served by the spread of democracy than maintaining the rule of kelptocratic dictators.

As the largest remaining police state in the region, the sudden collapse of similar regimes in Egypt, Tunis and Libya must be a concern to the mullahs of Iran. And the process is far from complete. If Bahrain and Yemen fall, the regime in Saudi Arabia is going to come under further pressure. Should Saudi Arabia fall, Iran's system of government will become a glaring anomaly.