Thursday, November 29, 2007

FBI ‘Bot Roast II: 1 million infected PCs, $20 million in losses and 8 indictments | Community


The end of the two state solution

The BBC is reports that Olmert has warned that failure to agree a two state solution would mean the 'end of Israel'.

As negotiating positions go this is not exactly a strong one. There is little prospect of a two state solution being agreed with the Palestinians at Annapolis as the party the Palestinians elected their government was not invited to attend. And even if this is ignored it does not appear that Omert is able to conceed any significant removals of settlers from the West Bank even if he was inclined to do so.

Omert is certainly correct in his observation that "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished." The US is willing to write a blank check to defend Israel against terrorism, it is not going to underwrite a struggle to maintain an appartheid system.

Hamas has been attempting to ensure the collapse of a two state solution for precisely that reason. The more interesting question is what will happen within Hamas at this point. Clearly there are many Hamas members for whom an Islamic state 'over every inch of Palestine' is the only acceptable outcome. It is however quite likely that there are more than a few in the Hamas ranks who are more pragmatic and would accept a unitary secular state.

The question is whether this faction is able to emerge as the dominant one inside Hamas. Which brings us back to the explanation for Omert's otherwise puzzling statement. It makes no sense for Omert to make such a statement to the Israeli people unless it is to justify a program of withdrawl from the West Bank in order to make a two state solution possible. Omert shows no sign of doing this, nor would it even help at this point.

Another possible explanation is that it is a coded message to Hamas: This is how you can win what you really want.

If so Omert's strategy begins to look like the British negotiating strategy that brought about the Good Friday agreement and ended the IRA's terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland. The critical message in that case was that the British Government assured the IRA that it repudiated the discrimination against Catholics that originally sparked the troubles and that Britain had no interest in occupying the North against the wishes of the local population.

The idea of land for peace never made very much sense. It is hard to think of a case where partition has provided a lasting peace to any irridentist conflict. Partition in Ireland led to a civil war, two decades of peace until the second world war, then another two decades of peace during which the Protestants did their best to grind their heel into the Catholics' faces.

What the settler's really want is to be able to occupy any part of the territory. What the Palestinians really want is to be able to occupy any part of the territory and be treated with genuine equality. Those are not incompatible. The only incompatibilty arises when the bigots on one side or the other demand that the resulting state be 'Jewish' or 'Islamic' and set about creating the type of 'separate but equal' privileges that are guaranteed to create the bitterness and hatred that fuels the conflict.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


You know that there are people like this out there, I have to work with them (click to enlarge).

xkcd site

Monday, November 26, 2007

Felix Salmon on LSS

After reading Felix Salmon explanation of Leveraged Super Senior debt via Brad DeLong I have arrived at an understanding of a meta-theory of high finance.

High Finance consists of inventing jargon terms in order to obfuscate a financial transaction to such an extent that its true nature is disguised. When corporations are only measured by their short term performance as measured by standardized accounting practices the simplest way to improve results is to massage the figures for short term gain, pushing out hidden costs and concealling risks.

Super Senior, sounds like its the best eh? Actually its the toxic sub-prime sludge.

The sub-prime meltdown has been a topic of speculation amongst bloggers for three years now. Perhaps the warnings from the same bloggers about 'peak oil' are also on target.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holiday Present for HMG?

Pity its out of stock.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Prime Minister Apologises for Data Breach

The BBC reports that Prime Minister Brown has been forced to personally apologise for the data breach.

US readers will of course be puzzled by the spectacle of the top politician being held accountable for the actions of his own administration but this is entirely normal and a routine event in British Parliamentary democracy. The Prime Minister answers questions for half an hour every week. Preparing for PMQs typically takes about half a day, a significant investment.

Commentary on the breach strongly suggests that it might bring about the end of the national ID cards scheme. The Tories have a major opportunity here:

1) The National ID card scheme is already very unpopular.

The idea of an identity card is contrary to the British view of Britishness. It is the symbol of an authoritarian state on the Napoleonic model that the British fought major wars to reject.

2) HMG has suffered a long series of IT procurement disasters.

The procurement process has been entirely captured by the major IT consulting firms and Labour have proved unable to see the cause of the problem, let alone remedy it.

3) The technical architecture for the National ID card does not represent state of the art.

One reason for the huge cost or the ID card system is that like Herod in times past, HMG is going to require every citizen to be authenticated in accordance with the same set of security procedures regardless of whether they are going to claim benefits or require services that would make a high degree of authentication necessary.

4) The costs are now, the benefits far in the future

Like the millenium dome, the National ID card scheme requires a massive up front capital investment which can only be recaptured if highly optimistic forecasts hold. The National ID card scheme has never established a strong base of support within the Labour party, let alone the opposition.

5) There are other options for achieving the same ends

Part of the problem with the National ID card scheme is that it is an end in itself and the proponents have never managed to explain what the objectives actually are. The only measurable goals set out are reducing benefits fraud and reducing bank fraud.

  • It is not necessary to register the entire population to control benefits fraud. The best way to reduce bank fraud is to improve the security of banking technology.
  • Chip and PIN has been vastly more effective at eliminating fraud due to forged cards than the National ID card could be.

6) George Brown would likely appreciate the excuse.

The Tories should attck on ID cards because they are probably pushisn at an open door. Brown would no doubt prefer to avoid a political defeat but he will probably accept a defeat rather than have the albatross of Blair's ID card scheme strung round his neck. This data breach provides Brown with an ideal pretext for re-examining the scheme. At the very least this allows any final decision on the future of the scheme to be pushed out beyond the next election.

A commission to examine the security of the proposed National ID cards scheme would meet everyone's political needs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Crypto News from the UK

The BBC reports that animal rights activists are facing demands to reval their decryption keys under provisions of RIPA which came into force in October.

Meanwhile the Chancellor has admitted the loss of data disks containing details of 25 million child benefit claims, possibly the largest data breach to date. No doubt the folk at Emerge4nt Chaos will be having a field day.

Breach disclosure is like a fire alarm, it does no good at all unless you have an evacuation plan and preferably a fire brigade. But even the best fire alarm is a poor defense compared to effective building codes.

We have no shortage of technology, we need to develop the building codes.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tape is dead

Reviews of the latest HD video cameras confirm te fact that tape is dead, the JVC GZ-HD7 takes the now typical route of using a hard drive. Meanwhile Sony and Panasonic have introduced the AVCHD standard which makes use of the more efficient H.264 codec which would allow recording of HD to tape but cameras like the SD1 actually use SD flash memory instead.

Its hard to see how tape can compete at this point. Flash memory is cheap and getting cheaper. The higher media cost is more than set off by the increased convenience. The tape is pretty much a transfer medium rather than a storage medium in any case. A DV tape stores 10Gb and costs about $3 in Costco. A 250 Gb portable hard drive costs $140. Thats 56 cents a gig versus 30 cents. And a 250 Gb portable drive is a whole heap easier to carry about.

As disk drive manufacturers continue to try to climb the value chain they will produce mass battery powered portable media stores for backing up memory chips in the field. At the moment these are a niche gadget for serious professionals. Within a short time they will be mainstream.

All of which means that keping track of which bits have been recorded and where they are stored is going to become more and more of a challenge. I think that we are going to see more manufacturers recognizing the value of recording GPS tracking data on cameras. But who wants to bulk up their camera with a GPS chip even if its useful?

Better solution by far would be to have a reliable and robust means for linking your cell phone / GPS unit to your camera. I know that phones have cameras too these days but there is no way that a phone format camera can compete for quality with a purpose designed DSLR. Whatever technology you put in the compact phone form factor can work better in a dedicated form factor, even if the laws of physics and diffraction did not limit what a phone camera can do in any case.

So it all comes down to integration as the key issue.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good news, bad news

The unlovely Iranian government provides good news and bad.

The good news is that it appears that they are providing rather less IEDs and other munitions to the anti-US forces in Iraq. The bad news is that the country is still lawless, judicial murders are so frequent that they only attract attention when a particularly eggregious sentence is commuted.

The worse news is that the lawlessness in Iran is not atypical of the region with rape victims in Saudi Arabia and Dubai receiving sentences from the barbaric administrations.

All of which makes the fiasco in Iraq a worse problem, not less. Iran is with all its faults amongst the more liberal, democratic regimes in the region. The best outcome that can be expected from the US invasion is that Iraq will end up not quite so bad as Iran. Arguably this is an improvement in that Iraq is no longer capable of invading other countries in the region, but this has been true since the end of the first US-Iraq gulf war and in any case the chief beneficiary is Iran.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

MAKE: Blog: Tesla coil super mario duet

The coils are making the sound.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Real Internet Crime

For while I have been complaining that what is commonly referred to as 'Internet crime' isn't. Its just plain old burgalry or fraud or shoplifting with an Internet twist.

The BBC reports what might be a real honest-to-goodness (OK dishonest-to-badness) Internet Crime, theft of hotel furniture from an online hotel.

Its being treated as a crime because the goods were paid for with real money.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Whitehouse Email

A federal judge has just ordered the Whitehouse not to erase any backup tapes that might contail email messages.

Quite how this could become a problem by accident is a mystery to me. I know from personal experience that an archive system was in place at the start of the Clinton Presidency. Every email was to be archived, no exceptions.

The system did in fact break down once during the Clinton administration, backup tapes that should have backed up some of the Vice President's email were somehow corrupted during the transition from All-In-One. But the fact that it broke down under Clinton only makes the alleged breakdown under Bush even more inexplicable. The Federal government is far from perfect but when something breaks they know how to put procedures in place to make absolutely sure it never happens again. For the system to have broken down a second time there must have been some sort of forcing function.

Sub Prime Explained

H/T: Michael Froomkin

From the deprtment of 'you don't say'

BBC News

Thursday, November 08, 2007

How to save net bandwidth

While at the W3C TPAC today, someone who does not wish to be identified suggested a surefire means of saving vast quantities of network bandwidth: Every new disk drive is filled with porn before it ships.

Using IRC at meetings

Instructions for getting onto the IRC channel for the meeting are in the agenda.

To find the agenda, follow the link just sent out on IRC

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Writers strike

Let us for the sake of argument stupulate that the studios are telling the truth when they claim that they make next to no money from Internet content.

Let us further stipulate that the studios are correct in their assertion that the amount that the writers stand to gain is trivial compared to the amount that they stand to gain.

I don't know what the writers earn but I am willing to bet that it is a whole lot less than the amount made by the studios from the shows that have gone off the air this week. So if it is 'stupid' for the writers to go out on strike over a trivial amount of money as Eisner claims, what does that say of the studios?

One possibility is that the strike is really about setting a precedent for future division of royalties but it seems much more likely to me that the money at stake here is very real.

The screenwriters are in a much stronger position than most strikers. Some writers are going to be missing a paycheck at the end of the week but most writers don't see a regular paycheck anyway, apart from their residuals checks that are going to come in anyway. And even though its officially 'pencils down', that only really means that the writers are not going to be delivering material to the studios. The writers can still work on non-script projects such as books, catching up on reading, administrative work, networking and such.

None of this really seems to make it through to reports of the strike in the establishment media.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The IRS Phish amount just went up

So now I learn by email that my IRS refund is $343.56, thats more than double since last week's $147.59. Both are of course completely fake, the IRS does not notify people about refunds by email.

There is a strange synchronization problem for the attackers. If they all use different refund amounts they create suspicion and their response rate goes down. But some attackers are still using $147.59 which was last years scam amount while others seem to think a change will be more effective.