Chad Perrin: SOB

27 November 2007

I’m on t3h Intarw3b radio tubes!

Filed under: Geek,Profession,Security — apotheon @ 05:27

Tomorrow (28 Nov 2007), I’ll be a featured guest on the live IBM-sponsored TechRepublic webcast Securing Networks Without Borders. My understanding is that the moderator will address me to lead into the segment on “why IT pros need to move beyond thinking of security in technical terms”. I find this somewhat ironic, in that most of what I have to say about that subject in general is usually related to getting IT security professionals to teach others to think in terms of the principles that underlie technical security, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say about the subject more in line with what I expect they’ll want to discuss. It just means I usually find myself motivated to talk about other aspects of the problem.

In case “networks without borders” sounds a bit too buzzwordy for you to parse effectively, I don’t blame you. The specific meaning of the term in this case seems to largely relate to the fact that in a networked world (assuming you’re connected to it all, which you obviously are if you’re reading this online), perimeter security isn’t enough. In terms of security, there’s actually very little to define an effective perimeter because (as I’ve heard/read it put, and agree) security for the most part follows the data.

Anyway, feel free to check out the webcast live. You might get to hear me make amusing speech errors on a live, widely distributed webcast, as one of these “IT industry’s top security minds”, in part because notice of the invitation to participate arrived late enough that my preparation for it mostly consists of reading an article I wrote that prompted the editor Jason Hiner to invite me to refresh my memory. This means I’ll be winging it, substantially. One of the benefits of my principles-based approach to security, of course, is that it’s easy to wing it, so I’m not too worried — when you focus on principles, it’s easy to research and recreate the details from principles as needed, in addition to the obvious benefit of not getting caught up in checklists, losing sight of the big picture and failing to take note of the implications in the changing IT security landscape.

Okay, I’m going to stop babbling about it now, before this turns into too much hand-waving and buzzwords. Even if you miss the original live webcast, it’ll still be available after the fact as a recorded archive of the event. You should be able to access it as a streaming RealPlayer format file, if I’m not mistaken — which, on Unix-like systems, probably involves using MPlayer with Win32 codecs and, for most, an MPlayer plug-in for Firefox. This stuff is all trivially installed on FreeBSD. In theory, at least some of it (if not all) should be trivially installed on Debian GNU/Linux as well (though I haven’t tested it), which would require adding nonfree sources to your sources.list file. On other OSes, you’re pretty much on your own at this point; this isn’t a tutorial.

I wonder if I can arrange something so it’s available as an Ogg Vorbis file at some point. Doubtful, but I’ll see what kind of pull I have and/or how flexible they are about delivery.

24 November 2007

the wisdom of crowds

Filed under: Cognition — apotheon @ 07:09

There’s no such thing as a “wisdom of crowds”. That may sound funny, coming from a former Wikimedia Foundation employee and current Wikipedia/Wikinews proponent like me, but it’s true. It’s not “the wisdom of crowds” that makes Wikipedia work, but the ability to aggregate individual knowledge and save it in a central location.

Collecting people in crowds increases exactly three things with any certainty, and none of them are wisdom:

  1. It increases the likelihood of a single individual member of the crowd surviving against predators.
  2. It increases the effective conservatism of decision-making, not only when consensus (or even majority) decisions are made, but often even individual decisions.
  3. It increases the tendency of individuals within the crowd to excuse their own actions and justify them regardless of how reprehensible those actions may be when contemplated in solitude.

At this moment in time, for me at least, the most interesting of the three is point two — because it implies something quite contrary to the “wisdom of crowds” nonsense people keep yammering on about. Crowds are not wise. The wisdom of a crowd, if anything, is probably roughly equal to the wisdom of its least wise member minus the cube of the number of individuals in the crowd, or something along those lines — assuming wisdom is quantifiable.

The plummeting sense of accountability amongst members of a mob (aka “crowd”) as it grows larger is also somewhat indicative of a distinct lack of wisdom.

22 November 2007

Run away from scary things — but where?

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 03:56

Every now and then, conversation begins anew in some corner of the Internet to which I pay attention on the subject of expatriating. That is, I occasionally become aware of discussions of moving the hell out of the ol’ US of A, specifically in response to changing political circumstances. Sometimes I’m a part of the discussion. Sometimes I’m not.

The most recent instance was the news that District of Columbia v. Heller has been accepted by the Supreme Court of the United States for review and ruling. The upside: the 9th District Court of Appeals decided that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, and that it further applies to the District of Columbia despite the fact DC is not technically a “State”. The result is that the blanket handgun ban and the prohibition against keeping assembled, functional firearms in one’s home in DC are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, one hopes, will uphold that ruling — or, at the very least, the part of it that applies to an individual right to keep and bear arms. The downside: there’s always the possibility that the left-wingnut activist contingent on the Supreme Court will win out, thus leading to a ruling that the Second Amendment is essentially meaningless. The SCOTUS might join the ranks of branches of federal government that are hell-bent on gutting the Bill of Rights.

The discussion that ensued was reminiscent of earlier iterations of such a conversation. In this case, it focused around an idea something like this:

Where the heck would we go, that would be any better in the long run, if the SCOTUS decides to erase the protections of the Second Amendment?

This has gotten me thinking:

We’ve recently seen the indefinite suspension of the power of the courts to issue a Writ of Habeas Corpus. We’ve seen laws passed intended to undermine the right of citizens to be secure in their persons, papers, et cetera. We’ve seen creation of torture camps, declarations of the power of the Executive to ignore Legislative authority, and proposed bills that would allow such frightening authority as that of summarily revoking US citizenship.

Think about this for a moment. All of that came to pass during the tenure of the Bush Administration and a Republican-dominated Congress.

During most of the time that I have been politically aware, the Democrats have by far been the greater threat to the sanctity of the Bill of Rights. Sure, there have always been these lurkings about the fringes from the Republican Party, trying to impose some kind of Christian morality limit on the Constitutional protection of the right of free speech in the First Amendment, but it was really a fringe thing that few people had any reason to expect would go anywhere.

Most of the people claiming the Republican Party was attempting to censor things were just complaining that federal tax money should be spent on male nudity in photographic art forms just as much as on still life paintings, if not more so, and similar matters that really don’t have very bloody much to do with the First Amendment.

Most of the people claiming the Republican Party was opposing principles of equal protection were affirmative action proponents or were fighting to improve the equal protection status of gays — which is important, to be sure, but is also not much of a battle in the long run, since I have a hard time even conceiving of the idea that such true equality under the law will not inexorably come to pass, as long as we keep the (at least rough) observance of the Bill of Rights intact in our government.

The worst threats to liberty in this nation have been those that struck at the root of the tree of liberty as it flourishes here: the Bill of Rights. The single most concerted, long-term, determined, and widespread attacks on the Bill of Rights were the left-wing attacks on the Second Amendment.

None of this has gotten any better. How bad is it, then, that the Republican Party has come to be the worst enemy of the Constitution — and, specifically, the Bill of Rights — by actually becoming so much worse than it was that its danger to liberty surpasses the previously superior level of opposition to individual liberty of the Democratic Party? It would be nice to see the Republicans take the lead in the fight against individual liberty because the Democrats stopped fighting so hard, and their efforts fell behind those of the Republicans, but that is not what has happened. Instead, the Republican Party has, by and large, redoubled its efforts, compounding the problems already existing, adding to them, increasing the danger to the rights of the individual to absurd, previously unseen levels.

. . . and yet, it all looks to be reversible, at least in theory. The last line of defense against the depredations of corrupt and evil politicians in the Legislative and Executive branches of government are those stalwarts of the SCOTUS, in the Judicial branch. Sometimes it takes a long time for something to get that far, to get overturned as unconstitutional. Sometimes, it gets reversed before it gets to that point, thanks to the mercurial nature of the Legislative and Executive branches. When the Supreme Court judges something unconstitutional, however, that tends to remain the standard for the future for generations to come.

It takes much, much longer to overturn Supreme Court precedent than for the Supreme Court to get around to ruling some asinine, bone-headed law from Congress unconstitutional. Part of the reason for that is the simple fact that no branch of government tends to change its collective mind any faster than a significant number of its decision-making members get replaced, which can happen in as little as two years in Congress and four in the Presidency under normal circumstances — while Supreme Court positions can last literally a lifetime without any likelihood of removal from office. Even when the entire makeup of the SCOTUS has changed, new Supreme Court Justices are loath to reverse the decisions of their forebears, as the power of judicial precedent is traditionally one of the most enduring in government.

Thus, we’re seeing a circumstance where a great many people are biting their nails in anticipation of what will come of District of Columbia v. Heller. On one hand we have those who wish to see the Second Amendment interpreted such that it renders itself superfluous and pointless, no protection for anything, really — the same people who have been calling the Constitution a “living document” for decades, insinuating that what it says now doesn’t matter because we should change it to eliminate ancient barbarism like the right to keep and bear arms from its pages. On the other hand, we have those who hope the Supreme Court doesn’t kick one of the three pillars of liberty out from under our government’s founding document.

If it were not for the chance occurrence of the timing of this case coming to the Supreme Court, though, we’d still be sitting here in the midst of considering the horrors of the Republican Party succeeding in its recent apparent goal of becoming the new, worst enemy of liberty in the United States of America. Instead, our concern must be with the Schrödinger’s Cat that is a potential ruling on the Second Amendment by the SCOTUS.

Well. Things are certainly scary right now. The abolition in law of the Writ of Habeas Corpus has thus far appeared to be the worst, in terms of far-reaching negative effects on rights and liberties, this country has seen in the last century or so at least. It may soon be topped by a Supreme Court decision, if things go poorly. Frankly, if some Democrat or Republican (other than Ron Paul) gets elected to the Presidency, and the Supreme Court decides in favor of the DC firearms prohibitions, I’m inclined to pack up and leave — finally. That strikes me as kind of a breaking point, the point at which the groundwork has been laid for everything to finally go straight to hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not bother screwing around with any handbaskets.

So, the question then remains:

Where the hell would I go? What are the options?

I’m open to ideas.

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