Month: August 2006

Schneier on terror

Bruce Schneier has a nice piece echoing the idea that the goal of terrorism isn’t to blow up planes and kill people, it’s terror itself.

It’s the reality, stupid!

Haven’t we heard this song before?

Some senior Bush administration officials and top Republican lawmakers are voicing anger that American spy agencies have not issued more ominous warnings about the threats that they say Iran presents to the United States.

Some policy makers have accused intelligence agencies of playing down Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent attacks against Israel and overestimating the time it would take for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

Google acquires image-classification company

From a blog post by Google’s Picasa Product Manager:

Neven Vision comes to Google with deep technology and expertise around automatically extracting information from a photo. It could be as simple as detecting whether or not a photo contains a person, or, one day, as complex as recognizing people, places, and objects. This technology just may make it a lot easier for you to organize and find the photos you care about. We don’t have any specific features to show off today, but we’re looking forward to having more to share with you soon.

Neven Vision’s page now redirects to the Google blog post, but a cached copy in The Wayback Machine indicates they’ve been focusing on face recognition technology of late, and C|NET mentions their iScout software for mobile phones that uses images shot with a camera phone to access additional content. (Link via John Battelle’s Searchblog, with some nice extra info at SearchEngineWatch.)

No more kings…

From today’s district court ruling that the NSA warrantless wiretapping program is illegal:

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all “inherent powers” must derive from that Constitution.

The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these [the First and Fourth] Amendments, has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well.

Amazing custom wine cellars

paul_wyatt_wine_cellar.gif

If you have a spare million dollars to drop, Paul Wyatt Designs has some absolutely stunning designs for custom wine cellars. (Thanks to Liz for the link!)

[Update 1/29/07: updated link as per comment.]

Now 86% Reality Free!

According to recent polls, 50% of Americans believe that weapons of mass destruction were actually found in Iraq, and at least back in December 24% of Americans believed that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11 were Iraqis. And a presumably different 36% of Americans believe it is either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or deliberately took no action to stop them, and another 16% of Americas speculate that the World Trade Center collapsed because of government-planted explosives rather than as a result of burning jet fuel.

So on the right we have fundamental ignorance about the facts (no doubt encouraged by scurrilous politicians) and on the left there’s a rising belief in ill-supported conspiracy theories (no doubt fanned by the Loose Change video). To the remaining 14%, please hang in there — you’re all we’ve got left in an increasingly reality-free nation.

(Links via On The Media.)

Lack of imagination

The phrase all the newspapers have picked up about the recent foiled terrorist plot:

“Put simply this was intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”

OK, so say their plan was to blow up 12 US-bound flights simultaneously, and say that by some stroke of absolute genius and/or luck they actually managed to succeed in every single case (fat chance, but humor me). If you assume around 259 people onboard each flight (the same number of people as were killed on Pan Am 747-100), that’s 3108 deaths. That would be a tragic loss of life. It’s roughly equivalent to the number killed in the WTC attacks, three times the number of civilians killed so far in Lebanon in the past few weeks, 7.5% of the number of civilians killed so far in Iraq, a third of the number killed every day in Rwanda in from April to July 1994, and only slightly fewer than the number of people killed in the US in auto accidents every month.

That’s a lot, and I’m glad they’ve arrested these guys. But unimaginable? That sounds like a serious lack of imagination.

Another reason for Open Source

Open Source means never having to say “You own my ass.” Via Wired:

The robot that parks cars at the Garden Street Garage in Hoboken, New Jersey, trapped hundreds of its wards last week for several days. But it wasn’t the technology car owners had to curse, it was the terms of a software license.

The garage is owned by the city; the software, by Robotic Parking of Clearwater, Florida.

In the course of a contract dispute, the city of Hoboken had police escort the Robotic employees from the premises just a few days before the contract between both parties was set to expire. What the city didn’t understand or perhaps concern itself with, is that they sent the company packing with its manuals and the intellectual property rights to the software that made the giant robotic parking structure work.

(Thanks to Nerfduck for the link!)

The only thing we have to fear…

The Cato institute has a short paper pointing out that most of the harm done by terrorism comes from our over-reaction to it (in terms of money diverted to security from more meaningful programs, additional hassle and fearful customers staying away) than the miniscule amount of damage that a terrorist attack itself delivers in terms of damage or loss of life. (For example, the paper points out that “in almost all years, the total number of people worldwide who die at the hands of international terrorists anywhere in the world is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States.”

It seems to me I’ve heard this idea somewhere before:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

We need words like these today as much as we did then, from the highest of offices to the local community.

(via Boing Boing via Schneier)

Air of smugness

What a great quote! From a story about presenters at Black Hat demonstrating a Wi-Fi driver exploit:

The video shows Ellch and Maynor targeting a specific security flaw in the Macbook’s wireless “device driver,” the software that allows the internal wireless card to communicate with the underlying OS X operating system. While those device driver flaws are particular to the Macbook — and presently not publicly disclosed — Maynor said the two have found at least two similar flaws in device drivers for wireless cards either designed for or embedded in machines running the Windows OS. Still, the presenters said they ultimately decided to run the demo against a Mac due to what Maynor called the “Mac user base aura of smugness on security.”