Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Animal Matters

Cattle and other grazing mammals align North-South and no one has noticed until now. Meanwhile, the polar bears are treading water. Here's to hoping polar bears evolve to be good swimmers. I'd hate to see them go extinct.


Bat Mortality Due to Wind Farms

T. Boone Pickens is right about wind farms not being harmful to birds. But, the turbine blades kill bats in large numbers.


Manipulation and Subversion

I ran across the following video link after perusing the CalculatedRisk blog.. I was surprised at how angry Jim Cramer was. But he's also right. The government is not doing its job. The SEC isn't doing its job. Treasury isn't doing its job. Some wealthy people are taking advantage of the situation and the taxpayers may end up paying for this lack of oversight and market manipulation. Lack of oversight was part of the problem with the dot.bomb crash and the small investors suffered then as well while Wall Street profited handsomely. Cramer also blames the ethanol mandate on grain commodity inflation. Archer Daniels Midland lobbied for corn to ethanol production for biofuel. It's just dumb to convert a grain we eat and use for animal feeds into fuel for our cars, but some corn producers and ADM have profited handsomely and Washington fell for their sales pitch. Then there's the Web2.0 Fraud Series at Brian Kreb's Security Fix blog, whereby crooks fleece everyone through their insecure computers and banks through remote manipulation and subversion of people's computers. The only difference is scale. The computer crooks are small time compared to the Wall Street and corporate crooks.

I suppose what really gets my goat is when cities actually decrease public safety in the name of increasing public safety with red light cameras. People are likely being injured and killed due to the light cycles being manipulated to increase fines. Of course, the only people for such cameras are the insurance companies who profit from them. Everyone else says that such cameras are bad public policy. In two of these examples, industries and bad public policy are being supported by the current government. Perhaps all three are really bad public policy because only a few cyber crooks will ever be caught because there is no uniform International Code of Justice for web theft and banks don't want people to know how bad their Internet Security really is. All of these examples are about manipulation and subversion of either machines, governments, or public officials so that a minority will gain from the majority. When did it become okay to steal from the poor to give to the rich, or has that always been the normal human condition?


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Validating Social Security Numbers

Validating Social Security Numbers should not be difficult. The Social Security Administration has taken a lot of heat for exposing people's SSNs over the years. The Social Security Number Verification Service appears to be open to corporations and businesses. I'm not sure how hard it would be for a crook posing as a small businessman to get authorization in order to validate stolen SSNs. One can find a breakdown of the Social Security Number here, though I've used CPSR's SSN Structure FAQ before. I knocked out a quick bash script in an hour or two:



while [ true ] ;
echo "Enter a Social Security Number [nnn-nn-nnnn] or Ctrl-C quit:"
read SSN

AREANUM=` echo $SSN | awk -F- '{ print $1 }'`
if [ $SSN = "123-45-6789" ] || [ $AREANUM = "000" ] || [ $AREANUM -gt 799 ] ; then
echo "Invalid SSN!"
printf "\n"
echo "$SSN appears to be valid. Check the Death list"
printf "\n"

It took me so long, because my skills have atrophied from lack of use. The script didn't even need a regex such as \d{3}\-\d{2}\-\d{3} since a valid input format was specified. I could have done more error checking, but for a quick and dirty bash script it's not bad.

The sad part about all of this is that the expensive application my firm bought isn't smart enough to screen out SSNs such as 123-45-6789, or any thing with an area number (the first three digits) equal to 000 or above 799. It will trigger on any nine digit sequence. I emailed the script to some colleagues. I doubt the system admins can write a filter mimicing what my script does. They ought to be able to, but from what I've been told the filter scripting language is poorly designed. The Death List is a list of SSN owners who have died. The Social Security Administration updates the list regularly. I wonder how many dead people will be voting this November?


Friday, August 22, 2008

A Small Step in the Right Direction

The FDA has approved the use of irradiation of leafy vegetables. Too late to save those who got sick or developed kidney failure. The food industry asked the FDA to approve the procedure. From experience comes wisdom.

Unfortunately, where vaccination is concerned, we are slipping backwards.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Last Freedom

Something happened to me this week that was quite distasteful as an experience. My freedom of speech in voicing my opinion about my profession was curtailed and I was censured. I'm still getting over my anger. I was driving over for a meeting with a recruiter this morning and I realized that I can't take any of this personally. I'm just hurting my own spirit. My last freedom is how I will react to the situation in the moment according to Viktor Frankl. Even though people may shit on you or betray you for a few dollars or a conviction that they are doing right, stooping to their level or holding onto that anger only hurts you, and they don't usually give one thought to what they've done which is ironic because their own children will inherit the "human" world they are creating this moment. Even decent people screw up, some more than others. I know I have, but as far as I know, I've never stepped on any one's rights or censored them.


Friday, August 08, 2008

The Anthrax Letter Attacks

Media such as the BBC are talking about Bruce Ivins and the U.S. government's assertion that he was the person who mailed letters full of anthrax spores in September and October of 2001. The only "proof" that the government has is that Ivins had access to the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis and that he had grown a sample that was unaccounted for. At most, this now deceased man was guilty of not logging the destruction of a culture of bacteria. That is all. If he was so mentally unstable or homicidal, why was he still given access to U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and why did he still have a security clearance? What is important here is what the government is not telling us.

1. The samples that were mailed were pure anthrax spores. There was no debris or remains of the bacteria that produced them.
2. The spores were milled or ground finely down to the size of individual spores (1.5-3.0 microns).
3. They were combined with a hydrophilic silica powder and given a weak electrical charge.

These three steps weaponized the spores and made them extremely deadly. There has not been one mention by the government of equipment that Ivins had access to at his job that could mill the spores, or that he had access to the silica powder used in the attacks. Ivins was a vaccine researcher. There are easier ways to give animals anthrax to test the efficacy of an experimental vaccine than brewing your own anthrax powder. Richard O. Spertzel asserts in this WSJ editorial that for the reasons cited above that Ivins could not have been the culprit. I tend to concur. It looks as if the FBI chose someone they felt might be unstable enough to buckle under pressure and kill himself during an investigation. This would benefit the FBI and allow them to end an embarassing investigation leading to nowhere and pin the blame on an innocent dead scapegoat. The failure of the FBI to reverse engineer the anthrax powder and the lack of the proper equipment where Ivins worked pretty much absolves Ivins. If the anthrax attacks has used a liquid aerosol instead of a powder, this might have implicated Ivins. The likely culprit is probably a former Biopreparat researcher working in biodefense research for the U.S. who worked on the Russian anthrax bioweapons program. A lot of those people are over here now doing more peaceful research, but some of them must know what equipment and powders to use to weaponize anthrax spores. They would also be immunized against anthrax so they could be sloppy in their containment technique if necessary.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sliding Towards Extinction

Can you say dinosaurs? This GM lineup still suffers from weight. Seven eighths of the energy to propel a car is used to move its massive weight. The less mass, the better the fuel economy. Simple physics. Few of these cars will offer significant fuel savings. If this is the best GM can come up with based on its marketing data, Congress's opinion that GM is going to go extinct is most likely correct. So much for innovation, but then huge bureaucracies stifle innovation.


Uncetainties of the Heart

Nothing much going on. It's hotter than Hell here in Dallas. I had a brunch date with a nice woman yesterday. Don't know how it went. She's extremely smart and self-confident, but then she has to be because she's the parent of two teens and a health professional. Between work and parenting, she has little time for dates, so it seems like it will be catch as catch can provided she wants a second date. My father says that if it doesn't come easy, then it's not worth it. The problem I see is that when you're in your late forties, your options are slim for dating prospects. They are even slimmer if you are playing catchup with your peers because you weren't making money in grad school. Then again, if a woman only likes you for your income, how superficial is that? She said that she intimidates many men because she is smart. That doesn't bother me. I had to get used to smart women in grad school as well, but it is true that a lot of men don't like smart women because their egos can't handle it. As Julie once remarked, "If it's meant to be, it will be regardless of what you do or don't do". I'm not so sure. A lot of what goes on in our heads is subconscious. We pick up and analyze cues all the time, but the whole process happens beneath our conscious perception. Still, I have Jerry Goldsmith's march from Patton which is a uplifting tune when I think about yesterday's brunch. As earworms go, one could do much worse. I suppose I'll have some sort of answer in a few days.

Postscript: She mentioned that the sponsors of the Academic Decathlon at her children's school like B and C students instead of the A students because the former students think faster on their feet. Really? That doesn't quite gibe with what the Wikipedia entry says. My high school chemistry teacher says that the chemistry curriculum has been watered down since I was in school. I hope the same isn't true for Acadeca.

Post-postscript: Who am I kidding? Myself of course. She sized me up in the first 30 seconds and came to a conclusion. Anything after that is a rationalization. So, for now I'll be a skeptic and assume that she's really not interested in romance until she indicates otherwise.

She emailed me at 11:38 PM and at least was honest and upfront. "I do not feel the connection that I am looking for in a gentleman." So, I didn't pass whatever criteria she has. However, I shouldn't take it personally, although that is easier said than done. Relief mingled with disappointment...and Life goes on.


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