Air Gap

Updated on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The latest revelations about how thoroughly the NSA, GCHQ and friends have corrupted Internet security have got Bruce Schneier recommending an air gap.

Back in the late 90's I played a small role in the fight against the UK government's trusted third party / mandatory key escrow scheme on behalf of Ç-Dilla, at around the same time as the Clinton administration was pushing the Clipper Chip. It seemed that the fight was won, but apparently after being told no the spy agencies went and found a way to do it anyway.

The starting point is terrorists, because there is nothing that can't be justified by the war on terror. But all that data just wants to be used so it gets shared with the DEA, and then the IRSAnd then LOVEINT. The implications for civil liberties and the economy aren't great but they're probably not the worst fallout.

The ending point is probably terrorists as well. Because by opening up back doors and sneaking weaknesses into the algorithms that we depend on for security we've opened up holes for the bad guys to exploit. Bad enough that your local nuclear power station is hooked up to the Internet but now we know the VPN and the Firewall that should be keeping it safe have been fatally compromised.

If we really wanted to save the most possible lives then the billions being sunk into the NSA would be better spent developing self-driving cars.

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Response to updated GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Response to updated GGNRA Draft Dog Management Plan

The National Park Service just released a new version of their Draft Dog Management Plan for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).

After the response to the previous version the NPS said that they'd consider allowing dog access in additional areas and more importantly that they would reevaluate the 'poison pill' provision that enabled changing the rules in the future without further consultation. Additional access was considered and rejected. 'Compliance-Based Management Strategy' has been rebranded as 'Monitoring-Based Management Strategy' and while they've technically dropped the poison pill the language is still pretty dire up to and including year plus closures:

"When the level of compliance is deemed unacceptable based on violations and/or impacts to resources, primary management actions such as focused enforcement of regulations, education, and establishment of buffer zones, time and use restrictions, and SUP restrictions would be implemented. If noncompliance continues, secondary management actions including short-term closures (typically one year or less) would be implemented through the compendium."

That 'typically one year or less' is just such a throw away line, like it's a minor punishment and not 7 dog years or more. 

Here are my full comments on the new plan (comment ID 875407-55416/35):

Dear National Park Service,

I commented on the previous Draft Dog Management Plan/ Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (comment ID: 457979-38106/85) and as requested will focus on the changes made between then and the current draft.

My chief concern with the previous draft was the provision that allowed the NPS to degrade off-leash ‘ROLA’ areas to on-leash or banning dogs entirely without further public consultation. The latest draft has removed this language, but the new ‘Monitoring-Based Management Strategy’ doesn’t strike me as a material improvement.

The compliance section of this strategy begins with focused enforcement of regulations and education. It should stop there. Instead it goes on to mention buffer zones, time and use restrictions, and SUP restrictions and then goes on to short-term closures that are typically one-year or less.

While the previous draft was worse, the prospect of losing access to the limited off-leash areas that will remain after the implementation of this plan for a year or possubly more isn’t a material improvement.

I live in San Francisco and frequently visit the GGNRA with my family, which includes a toddler and well behaved dog. I completely support a reasonable allocation of the available space between visitors who want to bring their dog and visitors who would prefer a dog-free experience.

Given the tone of the plan and the history of the NPS seeking to ban off-leash dog access altogether I cannot help but fear that any provision in the plan to curtail dog access will end up being used.

Please remove the language around further regulating, restricting, permitting and closing the ROLA areas. Focus on enforcement and use your limited resources to handle the minority of irresponsible dog owners rather than closing down access for everyone.


Robert Ellison

P.S. The sand ladder at fort funston is an unstable and dangerous trail. Introducing leashes would increase the risk of injury to people and dogs alike.


(previously, previously)

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BBC On Patents

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Patently Absurd

"The patent system in the USA is so distorted it's now more lucrative for companies known as 'patent trolls' to sue manufacturers rather than actually make anything. The problem's so serious that President Obama has got involved -- and British companies are targeted if they do business in the US. Rory Cellan-Jones investigates and finds one of the world's biggest trolls in his lair in Dallas."

Patently Absurd is available to stream for the next six days (the BBC never took me up on the offer for a new hard drive).


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Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015


Debate military intervention in Syria on LikeDebate. This is a parallel debate to the Intelligence Squared US debate tomorrow.

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Die, Software Patents, Die

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

HOWTO: Punish Banks

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Barclays just got fined $453m for manipulating the electricity market in the US, following a £290m fine for fiddling Libor while HSBC is off money laundering with seeming impunity.

A $453m fine for Barclays is equivalent to $600 for the average US household, although if the average US household got caught manipulating markets they'd probably be in jail.

These relatively small fines aren't enough to really change behavior.

Unless we change how the fines are used. Put $453m in an incubator that funds banking startups and you can have 40 scrappy well funded companies trying to take the banks down. A handful of those will succeed and really do some damage. Every time a bank misbehaves it will be sowing the seeds of its own destruction.


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Brexit Prize

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Flag of the USA after the UK becomes a state

The Institute of Economic Affairs has announced the 'Brexit Prize', a competition for the best blueprint for a UK exit from the European Union. First prize is 100,000 Euros, so it's worth a shot.

My plan: Beat Puerto Rico to becoming the 51st state.

I was just about to send this in when I read the instructions:

"At both stages, potential entrants should ask Amelia Abplanalp on [email protected] – for an entry number, preferably at least seven days before the closing date. Entrants should create two pdfs. One of those documents should only have the entry number as an identifier. The other document should have the entry number, name and contact details of the entrant on the cover page..."

It goes on like this and sounds like some EU directive relating to banana curvature. And don't you contact someone at an email address rather than on one? Must be an early April Fools' joke...

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This week in defeating Patent Trolls

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Drones and Gun Control

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

Drones and Gun Control

A quick question for the two thirds of Americans who see gun rights as being protection from tyranny. Your government has just refused to rule out killing you by drone in the US without due process (never mind that US citizens outside the country are already fair game). If not now, then when?

You realize that by the time ATF has seized your weapons and you're all locked up in internment camps for gun enthusiasts it will be too late, right?

If the Attorney General deciding that under circumstances he won't reveal it's OK to kill you without a trial doesn't cross the line then what does? Seems like the dictionary definition of tyranny to me. 

I've got to admit that I wouldn't like to try taking down the government via violence. They've got drones. Not to mention aircraft carriers, nukes, F-35s and whatever it is that's festering on Plum Island. Personally I'll stick with voting and blogging. 

So if you're not actually going to overthrow the government can we drop this ridiculous 'need' for guns and move on?

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Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015 wants every student in every school to learn how to code. The have an inspirational video of software luminaries saying how easy it is to do and then somewhat contradicting themselves by saying they can't hire enough engineers. If addition, subtraction and ten minutes on a web tutorial was enough then Facebook and Microsoft could hire just anyone. The project comes off as being just a little bit self serving. Sure, we need more skilled software engineers but we also hardware engineers and biohackers and makers not to mention doctors and lawyers and accountants.

Rather than getting everyone to code, how about just stopping Oklahoma from banning science teachers from failing students who fail to learn science: “but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories,”.

I'm not in any way against learning to code. But you can't code without a reasonable grasp of mathematics. And you're not going to be successful as a professional developer if you can't communicate. And when your code inevitably goes horribly wrong then debugging is the very essence of the scientific method. Maths, literacy and science come first, are relevant to many careers and the US isn't doing a particularly great job of delivering the goods. 

Get the basics right and plenty of students will become developers. 

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