Entertaining Links

I am a little too ill to post much today (stupid migraines grrrr) so I will share a few extremely entertaining links on people pushing back against Security Theater ™.

First, a great post from the American Scene: Air Safety in the Ugly Aggregate.

I pulled the same data that Nate did, and get the same aggregate totals for his ten-year period. But dividing those numbers out to the level of the individual passenger makes no sense to the managers responsible for maintaining the system. Nobody cares what your odds of being a victim are. What matters to the security principals is the risk of one catastrophic failure in the entire system during their tenure.

Say you are the Secretary of Homeland Security, and you plan to serve for four years before getting the hell out and working on Wall Street. There will be almost 3 million enplanements during your tenure. Aircraft for which you are nominally responsible will fly almost 30 billion miles. If we must do the Nickelodeon Numerology game, it would take light about 43 hours to go that far in space! Using Nate’s estimate of one terrorist per 11.5 billion miles flown, you can expect about 2 1/2 incidents on your watch. Look busy!

And, from the Register, Trouse-bomb clown attacks — how much should we laugh:

First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners.

Second: This does not matter. There is no need for greater efforts on security.

Third: A terrorist set fire to his own trousers, suffering eyewateringly painful burns to what Australian cricket commentators sometimes refer to as the “groinal area”, and nobody seems to be laughing. What’s wrong with us?

I am very pleased to see the security community starting to get some real airing of risks vs. reality vs. political theater.  The commentary is better than anything I can write.

Apple Tablet

Update: Truck is fixed. It was broken. List of things fixed was long. Crazy. I also read everyone’s responses re: migraines but I haven’t quite figured out what to do yet.

It must be recruiter season. The best I have received this week: “I have one of 35 jobs — want one?” and “I have a 50% travel position with some company somewhere you can interview with immediately.” Employers have suddenly discovered that — OMG — they are being attacked by BAD GUYS and perhaps they should do something about that and if they toss enough money at the problem it will go away.

But Anyway.

I heard this pernicious rumor about an Apple Tricorder Tablet that, according to the Internets, will solve world hunger, cure cancer, and display wicked PDFs. I am in sort of the same boat as Robert Cringely on this device. Yes, I have magazines from the mid-80s in my parents’ basement somewhere with tantalizing glimpses into the future when we shall all have magical tablet-like computers that shall be like notebooks but compute. We’ve dreamt about it for twenty-five years. At least. More if we harken back to Star Trek.

But $1000? Dear God, what does it do? Does it cure me of all my ailments when I lay my hands upon it? Now, don’t get me wrong, I am mightily fond of handing paychecks over to Apple. My house has long been purged of the pernicious menace of Windows and basks in a MacOSX glow (‘cept my netbook, that runs Ubuntu 9.10 which, bizarrely, I adore). Except for the occasional spectacular battery death the MacBooks run without a hitch forever and ever.

I want to get excited about the iSlate. I do. I honestly do. But is it Apple’s answer to the netbook? Is it a great big iPod touch? How is it better than my netbook? How much battery does it have? Because, y’know, we have MSI Wind netbooks with 12 hours of battery life showing up on the market and a cheaper netbook that runs all day with Ubuntu vs. an Apple tablet that is sexy but runs for two hours — it’s a difficult call. TELL ME HOW AWESOME IT IS.

I know this guy? Right? Who works in a chemistry lab all day? Who could get serious use out of a tablet computer. But it has to run scientific applications and not just stuff from the AppStore. That’s the deciding factor.

I am waiting with baited breath.

Truck and a Question Asked

The good news is that the check engine light on my truck works!

The bad news is that the check engine light meant an entire new set of spark plugs plus assorted other things. At least I can very heartily recommend my service center, Starting Gate of Laurel, MD, as being full of awesome. When they fix things it stays fixed. And thank god for cleared off credit cards.

My truck is a 2002 Ford Escape. It has been running well for many years. It decided to get all of its crapping out on me at once.

The Question: It has nothing to do with vehicles. I have been having real issues with a medication side effect which gives me horrendous headaches. I usually take Excedrin Migraine, which seems to mostly work. Does anyone have and decent advice on how to handle really nasty headaches other than hide in dark rooms and whimper sadly?

The Kindle Store is a Killer App

The Kindle Store is a Killer App. Not the Kindle, but the Kindle Store. A centrally located online repository that, through nothing other than a linked credit card, wirelessly and seamlessly delivers data to a device with no computer, wires, or other software required. Once the Kindle is hooked to its store it pulls books without any more fuss than simply hitting the download button, waiting, and watching the battery drain. It has reviews and ratings and book lists and sorting and it does very well precisely what Amazon does very well: it delivers books. It is the service by which the eBook becomes reality.

With CES around the corner, everyone is looking and waiting in anticipation for the new e-book readers. All of the e-book readers currently available have verious levels of suck with none of them cresting better than “good.” The slate waiting around the corner includes the Skiff, the Que, the Alex, the unfortunately named eDGe, the Copia Ocean, the COOL-ER, the iRiver Story, the Qi, and others to add to the current iLiads and e-Readers and Nooks in all different and varying sizes and shapes and capabilities. They’re expensive. Some work like enormous book-reading PDAs (feature creep) and some display newspapers. What is not clear is where any of them are going to get their content because those of us in the tech industry know that it doesn’t matter how awesome your gadget is — content is King.

Only the Kindle comes out of the box hooked to a store that has Amazon’s power behind it to deliver books to a device.

Sure, the Sony e-Reader has a store and somehow the content gets on the device through a serious of cables and foo. The Nook has theoretical 3G AT&T wireless but the store isn’t online yet (Q1 sometime about the time that they all ship!) But the Kindle has content. It’s not great as devices go but it has content. Real content. Live content. Content people want.

I have no doubt that these devices being presented at CES will all blow the current e-Readers away. But I would like to know where they are planning on getting books from. Without a Great Unified iTunes-like Store to Rule Them All, the devices are ultimately very pretty and extremely expensive PDAs who serve up great looking PDFs. Nice for carrying around business presentations but perhaps not so great for books. Book readers are no good without book stores from which to browse, sample, and purchase books. Right now there is one game in town: the Kindle Store and it will continue to sell Kindles over all the fancy devices.

This can all change with the Jesus Tablet*. WHO KNOWS WHAT THE JESUS TABLET WILL BRING. But we won’t know until the end of the month.

*According to the tech news, the new Apple Tablet is going to cure cancer, solve world hunger, and display ebooks. It is the savior of all Mankind. AMAZING.

Books Available on the Kindle

After spending time flipping through the Kindle store, I have discovered the following authors are NOT on the Kindle:

* Vladimir Nabokov
* Thomas Pynchon
* Hunter S Thompson
* Umberto Eco
* P. D. James
* Sylvia Plath

A few Arturo Perez-Reverte books have appeared but no Club Dumas. How can you not have the Club Dumas? Arturo Perez-Reverte is a wash — lesser known books.

The only Cormac McCarthy book available is the Road.

Yet authors available on the Kindle via the Kindle Store:

* Kurt Vonnegut
* David Foster Wallace
* Neal Stephenson
* Neil Gaiman
* All the Penguin Classics (yay Penguin you rule!)

There’s some very curious and strange gaps in their library. No Nabokov? What? While Amazon’s integrated Kindle Store is a killer app for their reader, it would be nice if it had, you know, books.

I almost sent Amazon one of those weird, stalker, insane emails in all caps about the lack of HST. No Great Shark Hunt? Why are you punishing me so?

Alas.

Meanwhile…

I went and updated my theme on my main blog yet again. This time I’ll leave it because it finally has the comments on the bottom of the posts. Who puts comments on the top? It’s terrible. This is, hopefully, better. I’m still fixing it up! It just needs the About section filled in and faboosh.

The Kindle vs. the Exercise Bike

I sometimes joke that I am the world’s most in shape flabby fat person because when I’m not burdened by various illnesses I tend to go work out all the time. I lift weights for a few minutes every morning (7 days a week) and usually hit a big, long aerobic exercise bike 3 times a week. The issue I have had in the past is that I cannot stand to just listen to music and podcasts. While they do something for me when I drive, they are horrible for working out because I just end up watching the clock. I need to block the output display and do something productive with the time. So I read.

Reading on the exercise bike is great if I am in the middle of a very floppy book with a broken spine. Otherwise, it has a few operational challenges.

I gave up reading several books that interested me but couldn’t stay open and moved entirely to easy to hold paperbacks simply for their easy-to-holdness. Since I am a High Minded Literature Nerd ™ who prefers Non-Fiction and Smarmy Literature to paperbacks, this made my life a bit hard because I like my Smarmy Literature and Smarmy Literature tends to be long in 81/2-11 format with stiff spines. Even on an exercise bike.

But now I have a Kindle! I feel like a race-traitor to my certain brand of book-loving nerd-kind but I have a Kindle! It’s flat! It does not have the page-turn-floppiness-closed-on-me problem! I found I had to jack the font resolution up to “eyebleedingly high” but otherwise it is relatively simple to read a Kindle on the exercise bike and punch that “Next Page” button like a crazed weasel when I need to. I can even keep the exercise contraption happy by holding on to the heartbeat sensors.

So, there’s that problem solved by the High Lords of Technology, then. Technology! What problem can it not solve?

Last Comments on Terrorism

This is it. I swear. A couple of round-up of points lurking in my head from reading essays from people smarter than me:

A. The point of terrorism is to create terror. Killing people generates terror… but so does the threat of killing people. When a threat can clear an airport and tie it up for two days, why bother with the real thing?

B. Because people massively overreact to the threat of terrorism, it is cost effective to set a terrorist up to fail. Actual terrorism, like the recent hit on the CIA post in Afghanistan, is expensive and incredibly risky. Getting caught means giving up vast time and resources.* Imagine the time spent getting a mole so close to CIA agents that the mole could bypass even basic security. Amazing.

However, slapping some explosives into some guy’s underwear is cheap. They don’t have to work. The guy just has to get caught to bait the US into an overreaction.

Besides, actually setting off the explosives is not a desired result because we tend to bomb people. But an overreaction to a failed and ludicrous attempt? Gold.

C. All these technological devices and security measures and pat-downs and random searches don’t work when the terrorist wants to get caught. That’s the entire point of terrorism! Drug mules have a different model of hack from terrorists since they want to get through undetected. Terrorists want to be detected! That’s the entire point of terrorism!

Terrorism doesn’t work when no one notices. Just something to think about next time you’re stuck in line at the airport.

D. America must return to being the Land of the Bold and the Home of the Free. I want to punch every person who screams about Government in their Medicare but is okay with strip searches of children in airports**. It’s time for the US to give the entire edifice the mocking it richly deserves. Reality happens. People are idiots. People do stupid and sometimes horrible things. We deal with it, grow up, and move on. I would rather be Proud than be dragged to their level.

And that’s it! I’m done. At least until something else stupid happens.

* One of the many reasons we see very, very, very little actual terrorism unlike in the rest of the world is that the US is protected by an enormous moat. It is expensive and difficult to get agents into the US instead of, say, 20 miles down the road. Of course it can be done and it /has/ been done, which is one of the reasons we are so crazy, but it’s very rare.

** You know who you are. You are on notice.

A Terrorist Does Not Have To Set Off The Bomb

More boring Crotch-Bomber stuff. Once it’s out of my system I will move on to other things. I promise!

The terrorist does not have to set off a bomb.

All a terrorist has to do is create terror.

The Crotch-Bomber was spectacularly successful if not, in hindsight, bizarrely stupid. He managed to throw the TSA into a complete tizzy, send the US Government off into spasms of hysteria, have the President of the United States have to “do something fast” and, best of all, get us to care about terrorists in general again and Al-Qaeda in specific. New, enormous investments will be placed in dubious technological equipment (because technology solves all problems). Everyone will be trained to Worship the Machine because the Machine Keeps Us Safe from Terrorists. Our society becomes less Free. We give up more freedoms and rights and dignities to feel “safe.” We profile people who might look dark skinned or might be naggingly Muslim again.

These sort of things don’t seem to happen when the US economy is at its peak but down at the trough where little disruptions in the infrastructure have giant ripples. Almost as if someone watches the news and says, “Let’s do this. It seems like a great time.” Disrupt a weak economy by making people more afraid to fly? Spectacular!

Until the US Government, and the TSA in particular, understands they need to model their security against real threats that generate terror and stop trying to stop every threat in the history of time as it flows forward and backward, they will never stop people trying to smuggle non-functioning bombs in their crotch. Threat Modeling is not just for software systems! It’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Figure out what the threats are and stop the threats. Define the threats, define the objectives of the threats, and secure against those problems. Don’t spend loads of money on new technological devices and inconvenience millions and millions of people. Not only will security at airports become far more efficient but the entire system will become safer. Fight the threat, not the dream. Stop securing against yesterday’s pathetic attack. Stop being afraid! Come on, folks. Real engineering, please. No more faith-based security.

That no one will put up with a terrorist action on an airplane any more makes us far more safer than any technological gadgets or buckets of money we toss into the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is a big money pit that spends money on garbage with no clear mandate, management, or budget oversight. Now they want to buy more toys. Say no. Go for the low-tech solution: If you would jump on a guy trying to light his crotch on fire, raise your hand. Give everyone kindles, because they double as bludgeoning devices.

I say, scrap the machines down to reasonable search, remove the tantalizing target of the security lines through optimization, stop looking at people’s shoes, give up the worthless but intrusive random searches of senior citizens and give all stewardesses some serious martial arts training. Or tasers. Would you light your crotch on fire if that nice lady who just gave you a Coke could rip your arms off? Or taser you in the face?

What’s the threat? Someone waving a gun/bomb/knife around on board. What’s the solution? Strengthen the doors on the cockpits and teach cabin crew to kick ass.