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"The future masters of technology will have to be lighthearted and intelligent. The machine easily masters the grim and the dumb." -- Marshall McLuhan, 1969

Sunlight Labs: Blog - And The Winners Are...
Topic: Politics and Law 12:28 pm EDT, Apr 20, 2009

The Sunlight Foundation Labs has announced the winners for their transparency coding content:

First == Filibusted: "Hold senators accountable for blocking legislation."

Second == Legistalker: "The latest online activity of Congress Members."

There were 40 entries... Check them out.

Sunlight Labs: Blog - And The Winners Are...

Mike Musgrove - Where Tinkerers Take Control of Technology -
Topic: Society 4:30 pm EDT, Apr 19, 2009

HacDC, based out of a church in Columbia Heights, is a sort of a co-op space for tinkerers, with about 25 members paying monthly dues of $50 to rent out the 600-square-foot space. For the money, members get round-the-clock access to the space and its collection of donated tools. Non-members are also welcome to hang out.

These guys are hackers, perhaps, but not in the bad, steal-your-passwords meaning of the word. Hacking, in the HacDC sense, refers to the act of tearing into the latest technology to build or do something not originally intended by a device's creators. A couple of years ago, I wrote about a guy who'd figured out how to wirelessly control his Roomba vacuum cleaner with a Nintendo DS. That's the sort of activity we're talking about here.

"Hacking is about discovering possibilities," said Nick Farr, the group's founder. "It's what Benjamin Franklin did. It's what Thomas Edison did."

"It's about taking control of technology, rather than taking what the consumer electronics industry decides to give you," Collins said. "I believe you need to take control of technology -- or it controls you."

HacDC gets some WaPo coverage...

Mike Musgrove - Where Tinkerers Take Control of Technology -

Knowing the Enemy | George Packer in The New Yorker
Topic: War on Terrorism 12:44 pm EDT, Apr 15, 2009

I somehow missed this fantastic "Al'Queda is a scene" roundup from NoteWorthy.

George Packer is simply essential. This is a long post because there is no way to boil this down.

"After 9/11, when a lot of people were saying, ‘The problem is Islam,’ I was thinking, It’s something deeper than that. It's about human social networks and the way that they operate."

That's David Kilcullen, an Australian lieutenant colonel who may just be our last best hope in the long war.

"The Islamic bit is secondary. This is human behavior in an Islamic setting. This is not ‘Islamic behavior.’"

“People don’t get pushed into rebellion by their ideology. They get pulled in by their social networks."

In the 1 December issue of Jane's Intelligence Review, John Horgan writes (sub req'd):

People who leave terrorist groups or move away from violent roles do so for a multitude of reasons. Horgan explains why greater understanding of the motivations behind this so-called 'disengagement' will help in developing successful anti-terrorism initiatives.

The reality is that actual attacks represent only the tip of an iceberg of activity.

Here's the abstract of a recent RAND working paper:

In the battle of ideas that has come to characterize the struggle against jihadist terrorism, a sometimes neglected dimension is the personal motivations of those drawn into the movement. This paper reports the results of a workshop held in September 2005 and sponsored by RAND’s Center for Middle East Public Policy and the Initiative for Middle East Youth. Workshop participants discussed the issue of why young people enter into jihadist groups and what might be done to prevent it or to disengage members of such groups once they have joined.

Now, back to the Packer piece:

The odd inclusion of environmentalist rhetoric, he said, made clear that “this wasn’t a list of genuine grievances. This was an Al Qaeda information strategy." ... “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reëlection.” Bin Laden shrewdly created an implicit association between Al Qaeda and the Democratic Party, for he had come to feel that Bush’s strategy in the war on terror was sustaining his own global importance.

You may recall the speculation that Bush would produce bin Laden's he... [ Read More (0.7k in body) ]

Knowing the Enemy | George Packer in The New Yorker

Higher Taxes Stole My Trip to Disney
Topic: Politics and Law 12:31 pm EDT, Apr 15, 2009

One of my co-workers took a walk down to the White House to see the teabagger protests and snap a few pictures. Here's your moment of tea bagger zen:

YouTube Is Doomed
Topic: Business 1:11 pm EDT, Apr 13, 2009

YouTube, that incandescent tower of video Babel; monument to the sloughed-off detritus of our exponentially-exploding digital culture; a Technicolor cataract of skateboarding dogs, lip-synching college students, political punditry, and porn; has reached the zenith of its meteoric rise; and Icarus-like, wings melting; is spiraling back to earth. Despite massive growth, ubiquitous global brand awareness, presidential endorsement, and the world’s greatest repository of illegally-pirated video content, Google’s massive video folly is on life-support, and the prognosis is grave.

The problem lies with the bean-counters. According to a report by Credit Suisse, YouTube is on track to lose roughly $470 million in 2009. No matter Google’s $116 billion market cap: a half-billion dollar loss on a single property, even one as large as YouTube, is a bitter pill to swallow. Even Eric Schmidt, talking to the New York Times about the YouTube acquisition, was quick to say that, going forward, Google would “be more careful with potential large expense streams, which are of uncertain return.”

Credit Suisse estimates YouTube will manage to rake in about $240 million in ad revenue in 2009, against operating costs of roughly $711 million, leading to a shortfall of just over $470 million. This half-billion dollar loss comes after more than a year of feverish experimentation in various forms of advertising, cross-product embedding, licensing and partnership deals. YouTube is adamant that ultimately they’ll find an advertising solution that will enable the ungainly behemoth to reach profitability. Looking at the math, it doesn’t seem likely.

It's no wonder why the twitter guys have no interest in selling out to anyone. Streaming around 140 characters at a time has a very different operating cost overhead than streaming around videos of cats doing stupid things. Given the necessity to share ad revenue with content owners, there isn't much room for a profit even with extremely high-end CPM rates. Youtube economics. FAIL.

YouTube Is Doomed

Topic: Humor 12:26 pm EDT, Apr 13, 2009

These days, when public officials talk about fighting piracy, they are not talking about college kids downloading music and movies.

I feel this is an improvement. yo ho ho

Sabotage attacks knock out phone service
Topic: Telecom Industry 3:17 pm EDT, Apr 11, 2009

Police are hunting for vandals who chopped fiber-optic cables and killed landlines, cell phones and Internet service for tens of thousands of people in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties on Thursday.

Ten fiber-optic cables carrying were cut at four locations in the predawn darkness.

The first four fiber-optic cables were cut shortly before 1:30 a.m. in an underground vault along Monterey Highway north of Blossom Hill Road in south San Jose, police Sgt. Ronnie Lopez said. The cables belong to AT&T, and most of the service disruption came from this attack.

Four more underground cables, at least two of which belong to AT&T, were cut about two hours later at two locations near each other along Old County Road near Bing Street in San Carlos, authorities said. Two additional lines were sliced on Hayes Avenue in south San Jose.

In each case, the vandals had to pry up heavy manhole covers with a special tool, climb down a shaft and chop through heavy cables. Britton said the four cables cut in San Jose were about the width of a silver dollar and were encased in tough plastic sheath. One cable contained 360 fibers, and the other three had 48 fibers each.

At least 500 total fiber-optic strands were sliced, and each had to be painstakingly spliced back together, requiring hours of work.

A communications blackout for the biggest sneak in California history? Nope.. Looks more like a union dispute:

The vandalism comes as AT&T is in talks with the Communications Workers of America for a contract covering more than 80,000 employees, who have been working under their old deal since it expired at 11:59 p.m. Saturday. Union members voted in late March to authorize a strike but have not scheduled one.

Just peachy.

Sabotage attacks knock out phone service

Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies -
Topic: Computer Security 6:40 pm EDT, Apr  8, 2009

Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," said a senior intelligence official. "So have the Russians."

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn't target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official said, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."

The Chinese have been owning just about everyone lately. I can't help but think that the Kung Fu analogy wasn't the greatest of ideas.

The CyberWar rages on...

Electricity Grid in U.S. Penetrated By Spies -

Is it Time for a Cyberwarfare Branch?
Topic: Military 6:08 pm EDT, Mar 15, 2009

Greg Conti, in the Spring 2009 issue of IA Newsletter:

Make no mistake -- the cyber cold war is being waged now.

The revolution in cyberwarfare ... necessitates the formation of a cyberwarfare branch of the military, on equal footing with the Army, Navy, and Air Force. We do not make this recommendation lightly.

The culture of each service is evident in its uniforms. Absent is recognition for technical expertise. The cultures of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are fundamentally incompatible with that of cyberwarfare. NSA is not the right type of organization. Unit bake sales are unlikely to attract and retain the best and brightest.

The change will not be easy, but the risks inherent in maintaining the status quo are significantly worse.

From a recent WaPo story about Rod Beckstrom:

"He brought a completely different perspective, which in one way could have been his undoing," said a senior member of the intelligence community.

From a 2005 NYT op-ed:

The Army will need this lieutenant 20 years from now when he could be a colonel, or 30 years from now when he could have four stars on his collar. But I doubt he will be in uniform long enough to make captain.

Mike Wertheimer, the idea rat behind A-Space:

"I am threatening the status quo, and that's a hard pill to swallow for anybody."

About Sean Naylor:

Like any good reporter, he seeks to tell the whole tale, and some of what he reports the senior leadership would prefer not to hear.

Your daily dose of Simpsons:

Frink: "Now that I have your attention, we have some exciting new research from young Lisa Simpson. Let's bring her out and pay attention."

Scientist #1: "She's just a little girl!"

Scientist #2: "Let's not listen!"


Sure, we have to worry about platforms and ships and guns and tanks and planes and that stuff. That is not what the department of defense has to be about.


The point that we wish to convey is that it is now fairly easy to devise scenarios in which the United States "loses" a war, something that seemed impossible during the post-Cold War era.

A final thought from BG Mark Kimmitt:

"I'm an artillery officer, and I can't fire cannons at the Internet."

Is it Time for a Cyberwarfare Branch?

CBS13 Investigates: Sacramento 'Tent City' -
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:36 pm EDT, Mar 10, 2009

Sacramento's homeless rate is rising quickly as people lose their homes and their jobs.

The sea of tents along Sacramento's American River is growing by the day. But here, there are no rules and no regulations. Here, at Tent City, you are on your own.

First world shanty towns.

No property taxes! No homeowner associations! No pre-approval necessary! The property values can only go up! Strong job growth in the local underground economy! Get in while the gettin' is good!

CBS13 Investigates: Sacramento 'Tent City' -

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