Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Going Rate for Herpes

$6.75 million and a BMW. If I were a young man I would start looking for a couger with bling and a blister.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hacking goes pro

E&T Magazine has published my latest article, on the evolution of the global hacker scene.


Kevin Kelly has a useful rundown on the variegated sorts who are predicting (and even rooting for) civilization collapse

Kunstler is definitely right about one crucial thing: complex civilizations collapse slowly, not quickly, which will be a great disappointment to eschatologically-minded collapsitarians.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The (kinda) Top 30 Innovations of the Last 30 Years

Since Nils beat me to the punch on the Presidential Leadership ranking, stupid jet-lag, here is a "celebration" by the Nightly Business Report and Knowledge@Wharton of the top 30 innovations since 1979. Below, top ten, complete list here.

10. Non-invasive laser/robotic surgery (laparoscopy)
9. Office software (Spreadsheets, word processors)
8. Fiber optics
7. Microprocessors
6. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
5. DNA testing and sequencing/Human genome mapping
4. E-mail
3. Mobile phones
2. PC/laptop computers
1. Internet/broadband/WWW (browser and HTML)

It should be noted that any list of this type not including "amateur porn" cannot be considered exhaustive.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidential rankings

Small Precautions has ranked the Presidents in the past, but today C-Span published a comprehensive survey that asked 65 presidential historians to rank the 43 ex-Presidents according to ten different criteria.

Not surprisingly, overall Lincoln, Washington and FDR come out on top, and Andrew Johnson and Buchanan land at the bottom. 

Bush II didn't do as bad as you'd think, ranking nearest the bottom on economic management (a judgment which presumably can only improve as time passes). I think the most depressing thing for the Bushists, probably, is that on the one category where he really ought to have been able to beat Clinton hands down, namely "moral authority," he ranked just about the same spot.

The person who got the easiest ride is Woodrow Wilson, who in my estimation is among the worst ever. The man segregated the federal government by Presidential order, for God's sake.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama as the American Gorbachev?

A few months ago, reviewing Dmitry Orlov's brilliantly provocative book Reinventing Collapse, Small Precautions wondered whether Obama might end in a position of being the American Gorbachev. Well, it turns out that former chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezai, has a similar speculation:

When Mr. Gorbachev came to power in Russia, no one believed that a great transformation was in the making.... When Mr. Bush invaded Afghanistan, and then Iraq and talk of new crusades proliferated in the political discourse, and even the Italian Prime Minister called Muslims a savage and uncivilized people, no one believed that six years later a black man from the bosom of a Muslim family would take leadership of the United States. Despite the fact that the religion of Mr. Obama is in a shroud of ignorance and it is made known that he is not Muslim, the issue is that he has emerged from the bosom of an Islamic family and his uncle is muazzin at a mosque in Africa and that most his family members are Muslim. This alone is a great victory for Muslims...Under any circumstances, the Mr. Obama phenomenon may either be result of calculations of the internal political colonialist structure of the United States in order to reconstruct the image of the United States, or Obama is a phenomenon of the kind of Gorbachev who will conduct fundamental reforms in economics and politics of the United States, or is result of the 'Hidden Hand' [of God].

None of these hypotheses must be refuted totally or accepted one hundred percent and we must await further signs and see what happens...Just to repeat: (A) The fact that a black man from the bosom of a Muslim family has taken up the leadership of the United States is a victory for the world of Islam. (B) Negative talk about this issue and Obama could be a hastily done deed resulting in damage to our country.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


William Pfaff, reporting from Davos, summarizes the current global mood:
The American economic model of deregulated market capitalism, dominant today in the U.S. and the rest of the industrial world, cited as a vehicle of human progress, proves under examination to have been in significant part an affair of swindle, personal enrichment, looted third world nations, international and national crime conspiracies, bank robbery and Ponzi schemes, criminal real estate practices, environmental and institutional rip-offs, and official corruption.
How flat now, Tom?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bruce Sterling on the evaporation of collective illusions

Bruce Sterling suggests that the collapse in confidence in financial institutions may only be the tip of the iceberg. He then lays out some other collective illusions which risk evaporating in 2009. Among others:
Intellectual property. More specifically, the fiat declaration that properties that are easy to reproduce shouldn't be reproduced.

Declaring that "information wants to be free" is an ideological stance. A real-world situation where information can't be anything but free, where digital information cannot be monetized, is bizarre and deeply scary. No banker or economist anywhere has the ghost of clue what to do under such conditions.

Intellectual property made sense and used to work rather well when conditions of production favored it. Now they don't. If it's simple to copy just one single movie, some gray area of fair use can be tolerated. If it becomes easy to copy a million movies with one single button-push, this vast economic superstructure is reduced to rags. Our belief in this kind of "property" becomes absurd.

To imagine that real estate is worthless is strange, though we've somehow managed to do that. But our society is also built on the supposed monetary worth of unreal estate. In fact, the planet's most advanced economies are optimized to create pretty much nothing else. The ultimate global consequences of this situation's abject failure would rank with the collapse of Communism.

National currencies. What do these odd numismatic relics have to do with today's roiling global economy? There is no national currency remotely strong enough to resist persecution by speculators. They're all potential bubbles — panics in the making.

If cash becomes king, what happens when market forces smash the cash? Was that inky paper really, truly supposed to be worth more than real estate, or unreal intellectual property, or shares in productive companies? Why should anyone honestly believe that local treasury departments are somehow more credible than global bankers? What on earth were people thinking? Flee for the hills!

The Westphalian system. Why are so many great military powers losing a war in Afghanistan? Afghanistan isn't even a nation-state, yet it's defeating all comers. Why do we even pretend to have nations these days? Hollow states, failed states, non-states... The European post-state!

No flag, no currency... People no longer have to believe in these effigies. Why do they persist? The benefits of believing in nations are slim. The planetary slum-dwellers of failed states may find the rollicking life of a Somali pirate far more attractive than the hard work of state-building. The nation-state is torn from both above and below. The global guerrilla and the Davos globe-hopper are cousins.
Sterling also points out that the creeping demographic crisis of vastly expanding ranks of the elderly, and the environmental catastrophe portended by exploding atmospheric carbon levels both hang out there like grim reapers from the future. His prediction? The same as Small Precautions, namely that Hurricane Katrina was an epistle from the future.

More bad news at Fannie

Fannie Mae just barely and by luck managed to avoid a virus deployed by a disgruntled ex-employee that would have erased all of its data and brought the company to a halt. The short story is that an IT contractor by the name of Rajendrasinh Babubahai Makwana was fired on October 24 for violated security protocols. What happened next is a scandal:

The allegations [in the indictment] lay out a cautionary tale about the risk of lax security practices at highly sensitive enterprises. Despite his dismissal on October 24, Makwana's highly privileged computer access wasn't terminated until late into the evening because of bureaucratic procedures in Fannie's procurement department, according to court documents.

Shortly after Makwana was informed he was being fired, he logged in to Fannie's main development server and embedded a series of malicious scripts inside a legitimate program. To conceal the malicious payload, he created a page worth of blank lines between the legitimate code and the malicious code.

Makwana won't be the only part of Fannie's IT staff getting fired, I expect. In general, this story underscores two key points about hacking: (1) insiders pose the greatest security risk for most companies (because of both malice and stupidity), and (2) for that reason, access governance control is perhaps the single most important dimension of network security.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

A Poem for Pittsburgh

There was sadness,
There was loss.

To lose on a called penalty safety,
I laced up my shoes.

To walk and not witness,
celebration and post-mortem.

But they have played like this, all season.
But they have played like this, forever.

And they did not panic.
And they played.
And they won.