Friday, October 31, 2008

What is Security?

I've heard various definitions of security. The best one I've read or heard is "prevention of loss". In other words, security is a form of insurance. Everyone hates paying insurance because it's money that could be better spent on something else. However, insurance is a hedge against unanticipated or unknown risks. Security should be seen in that light as well, be it IT Security, National Security, Financial Security, etc. All too often though, security is used as a psychological weapon to frighten people into buying a product or service they don't require or that they could obtain more cheaply if they accessed their risks better. It also comes down to trust. We human beings trust each other and make the assumption that each of us is doing their best to do their job. But we've just seen that assumption tested to the extreme with this financial meltdown haven't we? Alan Greenspan assumed that bankers would be responsible executives and take care of their businesses, shareholders and investors. Many of them weren't, and unfortunately all of us will pay the price for that folly. My question is, "Where did the money go"? A few had to win for so many to lose. After all, that's how millionaires and billionaires are made. It's the rare person who makes something that is so useful that everyone benefits and no one loses.

Humanity will have to make some decisions shortly about what is important and essential. People assume that the population will double again in the next 50 years. This is a fallacy. The oceans are already stressed and many fisheries have not recovered. Fish protein feeds a lot of people and animals. The world is one big set of feedback loops and they all interact. One organism's waste is another organism's food. Every animal and plant is some other animal or plant's food, but usually only the sick or weak or unlucky are taken. Nothing is wasted. Mankind takes all - the best animals and plants for either trophies or food. This is not how Nature works. Evolution selects for the fittest - those most capable of surviving.

We are setting ourselves up for famine, and worse. Greed is not good, is never good. What good is it to guard a bank if the vaults are emptied by the greedy and the incompetent? What good is it to guard borders if one's country is falling apart internally? Of what use is a military, if there is no government or country to defend? What use is a home if one can't heat it? Of what use is money if it's worthless? What use is a gun without ammunition? One's security is dependent upon other human beings ultimately. This is why society invests in roads, bridges, planes, tanks, bombs, guns, police, firemen, and what not. But we are also dependent upon the environment. Civilizations fall when they run out of food. Famines result from a degradation of the environment or unforseen climate changes. Populations weakened by starvation are culled by diseases and malnutrition. We've seen one tipping point and that was with a manmade construct called money and its derivatives and electronic constructs. Nature is even more difficult to model, much less understand.

As we've seen voluntary regulations don't work. Laws need to be created with the right incentives in mind. In other words, a law should be almost an afterthought because people are doing the right thing anyway. A law is supposed to stop those individuals who do something to the detriment of others or society. No law can guard against ignorance or incompetence. This is why it is so difficult to make things foolproof, because fools are so ingenious and the Universe is perfecting them as well. This is why we have education and parenting - to limit the damage of fools. I don't know what the future holds, but leaders will have to really be leaders and create rules and policies that will create some sort of secure future for Humanity and the rest of the planet, or we will all be poorer, or worse, for their lapses in judgement. And as we have seen, security is mostly an illusion unless everyone is doing their part.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Interspecies Altruism and Cooperation

A dog named Leo stayed in a burning house to protect four kittens in Australia. The experts will likely attribute it to pack behavior. The kittens were pack members. Leo was protecting them and ignoring his own survival. Still, one doesn't see such a rare event every day. It's as rare as killer whales working with humans to kill humpbacks. That too, happened in Australia. Perhaps Australia is special in some way.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reverse Brain Drain

The United States and the West in general drained the best and the brightest minds from the rest of the world due to their affluence for the last sixty years. Sixty per cent of the Ph.D. engineering students in the U.S. are foreign nationals and they all used to stay here. That trend is reversing. As an example, an Australian research lab just developed the most efficient photovoltaic solar cell with a 25% efficiency. What is more remarkable is that the research center's graduates are primarily Chinese and they are going back to China and starting solar cell companies. We are seeing the fruits of Western R&D funding going back to the countries of the foreign graduate students whose research and training we taxpayers subsidized. Not only will we see the reverse brain drain accelerate, but we Westerners will see less innovation and industrial startups here in the West because there are better opportunities back home now for Western trained foreign scientists and engineers.

One of the reasons why is because the lawyers have corrupted the patent system to such an extent that business costs due to litigation have skyrocketed. One can't start a business and develop a product without worrying about being sued by the holder of an overly broadly applicable and vague patent in the United States. The other threat is from giant corporations. Microsoft infringed on's technology for streaming media. Instead of buying the technology, they stole it (which Microsoft is known for), and they hoped Burst would give up and die. Burst won a settlement, but was unfairly labelled as a patent troll. Microsoft and a predatory legal system made them that way. It is not Burst's fault. These restrictions don't exist in China. Copyright and patent protection are almost unknown.

The U.S. military already relies on foreign electronics. If that isn't an Achilles Heel, I don't know what is. The U.S. military will have other problems besides just a brain drain. They'll have Information Drain if they don't fix their network security. The best quote I heard recently was this one:

"We should have been training real engineers for building things rather than financial engineers who built fantasy financial castles in the sky" Paul Volcker

I doubt that we can wait for another Sputnik to wake us up and invest in our children's educations as well as science and technology to make the West a safer place. By that time, it'll be too late.


I Created Hell for Myself Last Thursday

I created a hell for myself the other day. I voted early for the November 4th elections. As I was leaving the voting station, I accidently backed my car into a railing for the disabled. It was an easy thing to do since the railing was lower than my car. It was the way the parking lot was designed and the placement of the rail because others had hit the end of the railing as well. A couple had just finished voting and the lady looked at the damage and said truthfully that the damage could have been worse. I remarked that it can always be worse. The damage was quite minor, but likely significant enough to exceed my insurance deductible. I haven't gotten an estimate yet. I will likely wait until I go back to West Texas and see what my brother-in-law thinks, but it's almost not worth repairing. But that is not the point. The point is that I got upset over the experience. It got worse. I took my two cats in for preoperative exams. I want to get their teeth cleaned to prevent any problems down the road. It cost me $500 just for the exams. One of my cats has a heart murmur. She had to have an X-ray, and both had to have blood tests. I was taken aback by the sticker shock of it all. I'll have to pay another $500 for the teeth cleaning. So, I had a second shock that day. What bothers me was that I was not more calm and more rational. It bothered me that I damaged my car even though the damage was essentially cosmetic. Then I was bothered by the expense of being responsible for my pets. Most people would give up the exams and the teeth cleanings because of the expense, but then at some point, my cats would suffer the consequences. I don't like to see animals suffer, especially pets. I do wonder though, how many kids I could help in a Sally Struthers country for $1000. Oh, the ways we perpetuate Hell on Earth.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

T-Mobile G1 Phone

T-Mobile G1 Phone

It slices! It dices! It's sharper than a Ginsu knife! It's the first generation HTC G1 phone. UPS delivered it yesterday, the 20th. That's right, two days before the October 22nd rollout! Eat yer hearts out!

I must have been one of the original 700000 (maybe the first 50-100,000). Heck, I ordered it the very first day they announced that they were taking orders as soon as I got to work that evening. It replaces my eight year old Nokia cell phone. I'm currently trying to figure out how to upload applications and get them to work. The current SDK doesn't allow such things it seems. I was able to image the 1GB SD card from the phone via USB cable and recovered deleted pictures I had snapped with the camera. The file format on the SD card is FAT16 from what Autopsy can glean. The back comes off easily allowing the SIM card and battery to be replaced with an ease that iPhone users can only wish for. Take that iPhone! The phone was in map mode and GPS had pinpointed my apartment easily and mapped it to Google maps. The only thing I'll likely regret is when the Generation Two phones come out for Christmas.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Scariest Halloween Costume

Thoughts for the scariest Halloween Party costume. Go dressed as Bernanke, Paulson, or Greenspan.

Meanwhile, Bush gets a look at the disaster.


Cost of Energy (kWh)

The cost of electrical energy in kilowatt-hours(kWh):

I've doubled the low end estimates to get the high end of the ranges except for natural gas where I increased it to a penny. From the gasoline engine on down, the difference is a factor of 2.46. I divided 1000/406 to take into account the differences in cost estimates from the source and the Science article. I am currently paying $0.17 per kWh (peak rate) in Texas where fuel costs are supposedly normalized to the cost of natural gas, but the majority of power plants are coal. The regulatory environment in Texas makes the Bush deregulation in Washington look minimal. Texans don't believe in regulating business and likely we are paying for it. But, it's still cheaper to live here than on either coast. And, we have T. Boone Pickens building wind farms and suggesting that everyone convert their vehicles to natural gas which makes a bit of sense. The take home lesson here is to choose your electric utility and transportation wisely. The automakers are using NiMH packs which will be expensive to replace. Lithium will be even more expensive. Lead cobalt batteries for EVs or hybrids might be the way to go if we don't convert our internal combustion engines to use natural gas. Temperature will be an issue. Lead acid batteries fare poorly in the cold or if it's too hot. Since all batteries are electrochemical in nature, the efficiency will be temperature dependent. For Texas, it'll have to be hybrid vehicles. There's just too much distance to cover.

There are other factors to consider. Natural gas power plants cost half as much to build as coal fired power plants. They are more efficient and produce 3-4x more electricity per dollar than coal fired power plants over their lifetimes. It is likely that American consumers are being gouged by their electric utilities. It explains why TXU was bought by a private equity firm and is now a private entity even though it's a public utility.

1. Science magazine book review of Physics for Future Presidents
2. EV Comparison by Apollo Energy Systems (make Lead Cobalt batteries)
3.Apollo Energy Systems
6.EV Battery Comparison Overview
7.The End of Oil


Sunday, October 05, 2008

What Really Kills Civilizations

Can you say famine followed by collapse? This is what happened to Iraq millenia ago, though it was overirrigation that did them in..


Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Fallacy of Voluntary Regulations and Oversight

This New York Times article on the SEC and the failure of voluntary regulations pretty much shows one of the causes of the current financial crisis. I'm guessing that one day the Bush Administration will be defined by the phrase "the fallacy of voluntary regulations and the social effects they create". Leonard D. Bole's letter to the SEC is here. It's not just the SEC though. The Bushie's have pretty much instituted "voluntary regulations" and "voluntary oversight" throughout the Federal government. There will likely be a swing to the opposite extreme now, as people will demand strict oversight and regulation of various industries. At best, we can hope for something moderate, though, if there's no money to spend, there will be no need for any regulations.

The Pentagon is a mess - procurement and weapons development are broken. DARPA was one of the more accountable agencies within the Pentagon, and they got their budget cut for saving money and holding grant awardees to their schedules, or else. Supposedly, armies become more efficient in times of war as bureacracies are pared down, but this doesn't seem to apply this time. Is this "Son of Vietnam"? Are our "best" weapons crap like the Sparrows were in Vietnam? Well, we are certainly seeing plenty of field testing. Hopefully, the procurement people are placed in the field and get to use the weapons they purchase. (Ha!, what a jape!)


What is Significant in Life?

I'd write about something significant if I could think of anything. The cats are happy and if they are happy, I guess I should be as well. What is significant in Life? I don't really know. I suppose to be as generous as one can be to those one comes in contact with. To be kind to friends and strangers alike. To treat this planet with the respect and sacredness it deserves as our oasis in space. To be passionate about something - be it a cause, a person, an idea. Yet, be able to walk away from that passion if it becomes an obsession.


Thursday, October 02, 2008


There's a famous YF22 prototype crash. We've seen financial crashes in slow motion the last two months and we'll likely see more to come. In the YF22 crash, the test pilots said that there was no reason for the test that caused the crash, but that management mandated it. They blame management for flying that plane into the ground. We are seeing the same thing happening on Wall Street and in firms that played in the derivatives markets. I'm seeing it at my job as well.

My group is being flown into the ground by mandates issued by my managers from their managers. (This is the weakness of corporate hierarchies - an inability for self-reflection and honest reporting to superiors.) I don't know what the outcome will be, but we are now unable to make internal ticket quotas because standards have been set too high. I'm not sure I'll even make it to December because of the silliness since I am still on probation. I had two phone calls yesterday from recruiters for an IT Security position, but since my company owns the company that's doing the recruiting, I can't be considered for the position which doesn't make sense. There's nothing on the internal corporate jobs search engine about the position, or on the other company's job search engine. So much for HR being on the ball.


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