Thursday, August 30, 2007

Some more gratuitous Craig jokes.

It seems that Republicans want gays to come out of the closet and into the cubicle.

[Mrs dotFuture found a variation of the following]

For years we have suspected that the Republicans have been screwing the country, but only now do we know why they sent the country down the toilet: thats where Republicans have sex.

Josh Marshall posted a link to this episode of Little Britain. It perfectly captures all the cliches of the political mea culpa: the concerned, smiling wife, the children draged out to speak to the media in front of a big house in a leafy suburb, the implausible explanation, feigning ignorance of the behaviour desribed 'a position that the arresting officer informs me is called', the assertion that the matter is closed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Stone/Spitzer telephone call

The blogosphere is a-twitter discussing a crank call made by a GOP dirty tricks operative to Spitzer’s Father. Stone, a participant in the Watergate scandal, claims that the call was made by someone who broke into his appartment.

Stone's purported 'alibi' is implausible but difficult to disprove unless someone saw him at home when the call was made. It is unlikely that he would have made the crank call in front of a witness.

Stone has also pointed to the fact that CallerID spoofing might have been used, this is a considerably weaker claim since CallerID would only affect the number displayed on the receiver's telephone and not the records used for billing. In particular the billing records for Stone's telephone could not be affected by CallerID spoofing.

There are in fact ways that a fake call could be placed on Stone's line but the circumstances that would make it possible are not very likely to apply in this case and in any case a forensics expert would be alert for the possibility. If there was a PBX on the line a hacker could gain control of the PBX and use it to relay the crank call. This is unlikely to apply in this case since it was a residential line and even if a PBX relay had been used there would be two calls, one into the PBX and one going out that started and finished at about the same time.

Another possibility is that the call was made from a computer connected to the telephone line. In the age of broadband this is most implausible.

Yet another possibility is that there was an attack at the level of the telephone switching infrastrucutre. This is possible in theory but not the sort of thing that you can find pre-packaged attack tools for on the typical hacker site. It would be much easier to perform the burgalry.

In the end the quality of the circumstantial evidence matters rather less than the quality of the policing. Stone's story is not something that he can expect to be believed by the police. It is one thing to tell a bunch of bullshit to the press, quite another to tell a lie to the police - as Martha Stewart discovered. Methinks that unlike Scooter Libby the pardon cavalry is not going to ride for the likes of Stone.

Monday, August 20, 2007

At last some common sense on the sub-prime meltdown

trillion pounds of debt matter? Probably not.

Planning for war on Iran continues?

A friend of a friend just pointed out the following set of circumstances:

1. The authorization for use of force passed after 9/11 allows the President to take military action against 'terrorists'.

2. The Bush administration has announced its intention to declare the Iranian revolutionary guard a terrorist organization.

The establishment media has reported the designation as a tactical move to allow financial sanctions to be taken against the guard. This spin makes no sense as all Iranian assets have been subject to US sanctions since the Carter administration.

Using the designation to claim that the administration has a legal basis for commiting an act of war appears to me to be a much more likely explanation. If so we might well see the end of US superpower status before the next Presidential inaugural.

The military question is whether a supercarrier is still a viable military platform in the age of advanced surface to ship missiles. Specifically do the Iranians have armour piercing depleted uranium tips on their Chinese designed weapons? Even if the Iranians fail to sink a capital ship they have the power to close the Straits of Hormuz and to create an uprising in Iraq.

The political question is whether the Congress will wake from its slumber and decide that finaly it has had enough.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Online law suits

From the it had to happen department, Virtual Sex Machine Spawns Lawsuit

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bad science - Google Blackie

Mark Ontkush has caused something of a stir with his assertion that Black Pixels are the New Green Pixels. The idea is that a monitor takes more power to show a white pixel than a black one. So change the color of the Google home page from white to black and you stop global warming.

Only problem here is that Ontkush had not actually measured the amount of power typical monitors consume when displaying a black or a white pixel. And people who have report the opposite of what he claims when an LCD is involved. Ontkush has since expanded on his original post, but still not enough measurement.

What we need here is some science, as in actual measurement. Where is power consumed in the modern home? Is it in heating, lighting, electronic gadgets? Does a 42" LCD consume more energy than a traditional CRT telly? Are we targeting resources at the right culprits?

Another caveat that has to be applied here is the cost of air conditioning. If you live in a cold climate waste heat is a benefit, if yuou are paying to cool the building you pay for waste heat twice - once to create it, then to dispose of it.

Without measurement we have no way to tell.

For example, I strongly suspect that a drip filter coffee maker with a stainless steel carafe saves a considerable amount of energy with respect to a traditional glass pot standing on a warming plate. The stainless steel carafe keeps warm of its own accord, the warming plate version stays on for as much as two hours before turning itself off.

I can come to a pretty accurate evaluation of the costs/benefits of switching to a stainless steel carafe as an individual consumer. If the hotplate is consuming a hundred watts that makes 0.2 units per time coffee is made, at 5 cents a unit that is a cent per pot. Making two pots a day I save $7 a year. So it will be 3 years before I recover the $20 extra cost of the higher priced model.

On pure economics the stainless steel carafe does not pay back in terms of energy savings even on a pretty optimistic set of assumptions. In practice the payback is much faster because the glass carafes only last a couple of years before being dropped and cost $15 to replace, if this is actually possible.

If we are going beyond the individual consumer we have to consider a much wider range of issues, in particular how much energy does it take to make the glass carafe versus the stainless steel one? Manufacture of both materials is highly energy intensive.

The Brezhnev Doctrine

Last night I re-read the Brezhnev Doctrine. As time goes on I am more and more convinced that George W. Bush is the Leonid Brezhnev of the United States.

The Bush doctrine and the Brezhnev doctrine make essentially the same statement: oderint dum metuant (let them hate us but they must fear us). Both doctrines assert the 'right' to intervene to enforce a particular set of ill-defined ideological ends.

Ultimately it was the Brezhnev doctrine that brought down the USSR. Realizing the doctrine required the USSR to be placed on a permanent war footing. The civilian economy collapsed under the strain long before the invasion of Afghanistan demonstrated that the USSR was no longer even an effective military power. By this time Brezhnez was at the very least senile if not clinically brain dead and his subordinates were acting on their own.

This highlights another common aspect of both the Bush and Brezhnev doctrines, both are sweeping assertions of absolute power by weak leaders who mistake use of violence as a first resource as demonstrating resolution rather than cowardice.

A final point of comparison between the doctrines is that the point at which the doctrine is stated is usually the point at which it becomes inoperable. The US has operated what amounts to a Bush doctrine since WWII. If we ignore the dubious claim of furthering democracy, the interventions in Iran, Latin America, Africa, Asia all fit within the Bush doctrine mold, just as the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 fits that of the Brezhnev doctrine.

It only becomes necessary to state a supremacist doctrine after control is already slipping away. In the case of the US the military had never been stronger than the day before the invasion of Iraq. But in relative terms the US lead over other countries is considerably narrower. In 1980 a cruise missile represented the very peak of military engineering achievement. Today it is possible for hobbyists to construct them in their garage from off the shelf electronics.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Charles Fourier

Ideology is such good fun, take feminist pioneer Charles Fourier for example. When he proposed the idea that the extension of women's rights was a fundamental precondition to social progress the idea was considered lunatic fringe.

It is such a pity that such people have more than one idea. It is an unfortunate fact that a person can be both visionary and a crackpot.

And so to the idea of the twelve common passions leading to precisely 810 types of character. So the ideal community in Fourier's world would have precisely 1620 members.

The underlying idea is not entirely bogus, the idea of putting different personality types together is a favorite of modern management. But the realization is completely crackpot.