Illegal laser strikes on U.S. aircraft by U.S. civilians

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In 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Berlin in an official capacity as head of state. After his airplane landed at whatever airport has replaced Berlin Tempelhof (closed in 2008), Prime Minister Netanyahu was transported by helicopter to downtown Berlin. The flight was brief, maybe 30 minutes from takeoff to landing. Along the route, an unidentified person shined a green laser pointer at the helicopter, temporarily blinding the German pilots. Both recovered quickly, and landed the aircraft without incident.

Charlie Chaplin image in der Spiegel

der Speigel online screen shot (7 December 2012)

When I read this news story several years ago, I thought it was genuine and a concern, but an extreme outlier risk. There were several attention-worthy aspects, not to mention the hilariously inappropriate Google personalized advertising served on the page. The latter was sufficiently silly, i.e. Charlie Chaplin was a pop-up, triggered by cursor motion, that I took a screen shot for posterity.

Laser pointer attack in Fresno

On 20 December 2013, a jury found two California residents guilty of aiming a laser pointer at a Fresno Police helicopter, Air One, and attempting to interfere with its operation. The couple, aged 25 and 23 years old, used a laser pointer that was 13 times more powerful than the usual (and legally allowed) power emission level for hand-held laser devices. Continue reading

Nine secrets of statistics and a poke at web scale

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My comment on Nine secrets you should have been taught as part of your undergraduate statistics degree follows.

Since you asked, I have a few additional suggestions.

For statistics students

Even if your interest is in mathematical statistics, do take at least one course in observational methods. Statistics for sociologists might seem tedious; it did to me! It is sufficiently different, e.g. Chi-squared, SPSS, that you’ll be happily surprised you had some exposure to it, even years later.

Secret Six is excellent advice. Statistics and probability theory give you a cabinet of analytic tools. In the workplace, you’ll have the freedom and the responsibility to decide which inference test or model is best, given the problem and available data. It is fun and exciting!

While reading that entry from the Opinion section of StatsLife, a pleasingly casual publication of The Royal Statistical Society, I noticed that it referenced another helpful list, 10 Secrets You Should Have Learned with Your Software Engineering Degree – But Probably Didn’t. Given the spirited and seemingly interminable debate about NoSQL versus traditional relational database management systems, I found Secret Five of Software Engineering amusing and ironic.

SQL

‘All the SQL I know I learned on the job. Why are databases an elective? What doesn’t use a database?’

The era of storing data in flat files is over. Everything goes into and out of a database. SQL is used to retrieve it. SQL is also a declarative language, not a procedural language, and so requires learning a new way of thinking about problem solving. Every programmer should understand the basics of database normalization and SELECTs, including basic INNER and OUTER JOINs, INSERTs, UPDATEs and DELETEs.

Mongodb

In the NoSQL ecosystem, MongoDB is particularly famous for its speed but less so for… many things, e.g. no schema, no JOINs. In recognition of such, I have included the infamous “MongoDB is Web Scale” video. It underscores the importance of several entries in the “secrets of software engineering education” post! For reinforced concept understanding, the video’s creator devoted an entire website, mongodb-is-web-scale to the transcript and back story.

Warning! Some NSFW language; visual is safe for all ages

What IS web scale?

There even seems to be some confusion over on Serverfault, see MongoDB: What does web scale mean?

I’ll try to be serious for a moment. MongoDB is touted as a document database, not a table database. Also, remember that NoSQL is often used as a general term for a non-relational database. NoSQL means “not only SQL” rather than “absolutely no SQL is allowed”!

Ignore data, focus on power

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Ellie Kesselman:

Speaking truth to power is not what is going on with Open Data, although that was my understanding when I first learned about open data, about four years ago. I am more cynical now.

What IS open data?

Here’s a definition, straight from the source, which is ultimately the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), whose major funding sources include Pierre Omidyar (e-Bay, First Intercept and Glenn Greenwald). As specified by the Open Definition, open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share alike. (What is Open Definition? Open Definition is another OKF project.) Key tenets are the following:
Availability and Access: the data must be available in its entirety, in a “convenient” format and at minimal cost, e.g. internet download.
Reuse and Redistribution: users of the data must be permitted to reuse and redistribute it
Universal Participation: everyone must be able to use, reuse and redistribute it, e.g. ‘non-commercial’ restrictions preventing ‘commercial’ use, or for educational purposes only, are not allowed.
The higher level goal is interoperability. For now, that mostly means being able to intermix data sets from multiple providers.
Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data stickers
Nota Bene! There are no restrictions on commercial use, nor should any assumptions about upholding privacy be made. Open data is/are about portability, so data generated by wearable tech and smart cities as well as Internet of Things devices is/are fair game.

The scope of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s openness initiative is quite broad. It includes, but is not limited to, open access, open data, open education, open science, open government, open licenses and open software. One may be granted Open Data Certification credentials, issued under the auspices of the Open Data Institute, known as ODI but NOT affiliated in any way whatsoever with the now-familiar ODNI! (Parenthetical aside: I urge you to view the immediately prior inline link. It is an ODI blog post titled, “The Data Reformation”. The post itself is visually lovely and well-written, though overly ambitious. Read the single, excellent comment, which astutely assesses the inherent challenge facing widespread open data usage.) There is even an Open Data Census by nation. Everyone from the Wikimedia Foundation to the World Bank is involved.

BookSprint School of Data

Ed and Laura at the School of (open) Data? No, just kidding.

In fact, the World Bank is working closely with the Omidyar Network to engage for-profit entities in a nascent Open Government Partnership Private Sector Council, which was set up to provide recommendations to the OGP Steering Committee.  

Of course, The World Bank will facilitate this initiative through (its? Omidyar’s? Jimmy Wales’s?) Open Private Sector platform.

Open private sector

The World Bank lauds JP Morgan Chase and Wal-Mart as exemplar corporations who have already adopted open and collaborative practices! World Bank Program Manager Benjamin Herzberg says that big businesses are enthusiastic about openness,

not for altruism or philanthropy, but because it can actually improve their bottom line. JP Morgan Chase provides information to the banking authorities on its thousands of subsidiaries. Wal-Mart works to offer visibility into its supply chain through real-time, anonymized worker feedback from 279 factories in Bangladesh.

This isn’t entirely correct though. The linked example report from JP Morgan is NOT optional. It is not prepared for the sake of “improving bottom line” profitability. Instead, it is a mandated regulatory requirement by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under the Securities Act of 1934. The annual Form 10-K filing must include, by definition, a list of JP Morgan Chase & Company’s U.S. and offshore subsidiaries. Although Mr. Herzberg chooses to link to the unstyled flat file, the same JP Morgan data, and much more, is already available, with interactive visuals, via the SEC’s next generation EDGAR system.

What about Wal-Mart? The worker feedback system is part of a larger and sadly, more typical Wal-Mart story involving failed safety inspections at those 279 factories in Bangladesh due to inadequate compliance with both local legislation and global standards.

Government? Licenses? Software? What’s up with that?

BookSprint School of Data

Using Open Data for government accountability, science education and…?

What about FOSS, GNU, FSF, GPL and Creative Commons? What about open data licensing in the EUMaybe this OKF post about the Open Software Service Definition will be helpful, insofar as it pertains to online software.

Globalism, Big Business and Profitability

How will the open movement and transparency improve business competitiveness? The World Bank and OKF via the Open Government Partnership are excited because:

Open data and transparency [will enable] multinational companies like JP Morgan Chase and Wal-Mart to improve their bottom lines.

WHAT?! JP Morgan and Wal-Mart don’t need any help with their bottom lines! They are huge, highly profitable corporate organizations already. This isn’t supposed to be the goal of openness, open cities and open government!

There’s a little more. Given the fact that there are long-extant governments, otherwise known as sovereign nations, with well-established infrastructure and domestic economies, I do not understand the need for the following Open Knowledge Foundation activities as effected by OGP (emphasis mine):

Sedex Global, a responsible sourcing organization working with 36,000 firms, announced a partnership with the World Bank Institute, to pilot the Open Supply Chain Platform, as part of the Open Private Sector Platform. This new initiative will complement the Open Company Data Index which seeks to incentivize governments to increase transparency around business registries…and possibly new legislation that would challenge the traditional way of doing business.

We are on a boat

Highly positive: Outdoors, reading a newspaper, talking and nary a computer in sight OKF 2013

We are on a boat

Also positive for Open Data: Good female-to-male ratio, smiles and lots of grilled meat OKF 2013

The limits of transparency

While open data isn’t a direct cure for injustice, I am not convinced that open data is increasing transparency. It does not appear to offer beneficial insight into the workings of power.

Originally posted on mathbabe:

I get asked pretty often whether I “believe” in open data. I tend to murmur a response along the lines of “it depends,” which doesn’t seem too satisfying to me or to the person I’m talking about. But this morning, I’m happy to say, I’ve finally come up with a kind of rule, which isn’t universal. It focuses on power.

Namely, I like data that shines light on powerful people. Like the Sunlight Foundation tracks money and politicians, and that’s good. But I tend to want to protect powerless people, like people who are being surveilled with sensors and their phones. And the thing is, most of the open data focuses on the latter. How people ride the subway or how they use the public park or where they shop.

Something in the middle is crime data, where you have compilation of people being stopped by the police (powerless) and…

View original 218 more words

Subverting computing research for fool’s gold

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Bitcoin is released on a regular schedule, no matter how much computing power is applied to it. Thus supply never meets demand, resulting in ever higher prices being paid with more computing power, i.e. more electricity.

bitcoin chart

Virtual money, real consumption

Chart via Virtual money, real consumption by Lucio BRAGAGNOLO. The following is a wretched, ad hoc Google Translate from Italian to English. Better to go read the original article, Denaro virtuale, consumi concreti.

We must solve two basic problems: who guarantees in case of adverse events, as there is no central bank; and most importantly what and how we should all pay the price of the financial adventures of a few. The really underrated aspect of Bitcoin is that the mechanism is designed to increase the computational power required as it increases the value of the currency. Currently there are mechanisms to adhere with excessive enthusiasm, but no one to call out wrong doers…

Next, via The cost of bitcoin:

Recall the magic that makes Bitcoin profound: scores of independent computers all over the world running at full speed in the hope of capturing new Bitcoin, and in the process verifying transactions for free. Those computers need power, and that power needs to be generated. True, whoever owns the servers is paying a huge electricity bill… Moreover, the design of Bitcoin guarantees that electrical consumption increases dramatically, indefinitely.

Perverse incentives: high performance computing

What makes Bitcoin so clever is how it assumes self-interest and uses incentives. All those virtuous, decentralized, distributed miners… Let’s put aside the fact that ASIC mining rigs with sufficient processing power to mine bitcoin (due to the more advanced status of the blockchain; first mover’s advantage) are now priced in the tens of thousands of dollars. Rather, the more general problem, one that always lurks in economic and mathematical models, is the negative externality. Fraud is one example of such, in the case of Mt. Gox.

Sadly, we now have another. US national agency computers misused to mine bitcoins via BBC.

Wisdom of the Cloud

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Is it easier to secure the cloud?

On 7 Nov 2011, senior Defense Department officials and IT industry experts met in Arlington, VA to discuss how to better protect military and commercial cyberspace. At that time, the director of DARPA said that 2004 was the first year that proceeds from cyber crime activities were greater than those from illegal drug sales.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency said that the Defense Department is looking at cloud computing platforms. In cloud computing, remote servers are used to store data. “It’s easier to secure the cloud and it’s cheaper,” Gen. Alexander said, noting potential savings of 30%.

 — DOD, Industry Address ‘Intense Challenge’ of Cyber Security

On the wisdom of a DoD transition to the cloud

The article said, “Another change that would upgrade the military’s cyber defense and save money is adopting cloud computing platforms. It’s easier to secure the cloud…”

Please be careful about reliance on cloud computing! The cloud is cheaper. That’s great. There are probably other benefits, for example, better performance and improved access in the field. The field could be any remote location, say, Antarctica, or underwater, not just the battle field! But there’s nothing as safe and secure as a server and processor accessed over dedicated lines, no internet connectivity, with people on location controlling physical access 24/7, and all of it ring-fenced by, well, fences! The Centers for Disease Control and Hoover Dam operate under that paradigm or similar, as stated on each entity’s public-facing website. Shouldn’t the NSA, CIA and DOD too?  If you transition to cloud computing, test it thoroughly. Thank you for allowing me to share my concerns and opinions.
— Ellie Kesselman, Arizona, U.S.A. 11/8/2011 5:48:26 AM

FedRAMP

My hesitancy about the wisdom of relying on vendor cloud computing has increased since then. I am not certain that it is easier to secure the cloud. I fear that reliance on contractors, facilitated by FedRAMP, is likely to cost us dearly in the long-run. Continue reading

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