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The Future of Hacking

sd-p1There’s an awful lot of hacking goes on in science fiction – but right at the moment, there’s an awful lot of hacking going on in the real world. Or that’s what we’d be led to believe by the press. This past month seems to have been rife with instances of internet information leakage, government tapping and straight forward ‘hacking’. Two major news sites down in the last seven days as a result, and a couple of providers of psuedo-private email services voluntarily closed down because they realised that they were in no position to be able to protect the privacy of those who use those services or the data they keep there. I refer to them as ‘psuedo-private’ because really that’s all any of these services ever can be unless you go and build your very own infrastructure upon which to run all communications.

As even Google pointed out this week, the expectation of privacy from the public using any service provided at no-cost/low-cost over the public internet is ludicrous. Even if you go out and buy your own server and host it yourself but connect it onto the internet, you’re using what has now become a public utility that you cannot/should not control or regulate. That’s the whole point of the internet.

The moral would seem to be – if you want privacy and you don’t want to get hacked, don’t connect to the same infrastructure that everyone else is connected to (that’s a situational cyber-crime prevention principle), but if you choose to do that you lose the utility of being on the internet. It’s a paradox.

So what of the future? With the growing availability of very smart pieces of software that are able to formulate intelligent strategies for cracking security measures, whilst also having the levels of processing power required to do serious damage in a short space of time with brute force attacks, how come the USS Enterprise isn’t constantly in space dock having its anti-virus systems updated?

Have all the angry hormonal adolescents alone in their bedrooms of the future given up on hacking? I somehow doubt it, in fact with the bounty of the future being even more attractive I would imagine that there will be even more of them. Think of it. We’re fairly connected today in a few countries, where we can get access to some institutions and systems via the internet, but there are still big chunks of commerce and industry in many parts of the world that are not effectively “online” and hence there’s nothing to be gained from attempting to “crack their codes” because they simply are not there.

Jump into the future a few years and at some point we have to acknowledge that absolutely every single thing that happens anywhere on the planet and beyond will be controlled or monitored by some sort of a computer. Under those circumstances there has to a lot to gain (and a lot to lose) from being able to gain access to the information or gain control of the entity. So as I point out, in the future hacking will be even more worthwhile, with even more targets.

So what will we do to keep it under control?

Can I honestly see our military machines running a copy of AVG before they boot up every morning?

What then are the alternatives?

A move away from the internet? Or at the very least a super-secure logical segmentation of the internet into channels for different applications? Hard to see how that could happen with the protocols all so open and well known to the world. An encrypted sub-layer within the medium of the network that remains invisible to the mere-mortals who use it for looking at YouTube? Once again, how  could that happen without everyone knowing about it?

Viruses and mallware are one thing, and protecting websites from defacement is something else that’s reasonably automatable, but there are a lot of other issues besides these that are characterized by the sort of incident we’re seeing. Protection against people who break in and steal or tamper is absolutely essential when the thing they’re breaking into is running the planet’s energy supply or producing fresh water for a few million people.

The logical step would seem to be to move away from the open standards for particular applications into a highly controlled new communications format which is able to transport internet-like traffic but which is simply not available to the general public. It sounds highly counter-intuitive and I really don’t see how it can happen without getting leaked (the Snowdens and the Mannings of this world would have got much of their information from the existing iteration of this concept – SIPRNet/NIPRNet – so secrecy through obscurity only works until the cat gets out of the bag, then it’s just as un-secret as everything else).

I don’t want to be bulls-eyeing Womp Rats in my T16 or trying to beam-up my away team from the remnants of a dieing planet only to get a little pop-up informing me that my free trial period has expired and my credit card has been rejected, but what’s the alternative?

Perhaps this is another frontier in the digital divide. Those on the inside and those on the outside of the big firewall in the sky.


TEDCity2.0: the posters

I’d really like to be at this event.

TED Blog

TEDCity2.0-poster-2“Dream me. Build me. Make me real.” This is the driving philosophy behind TEDCity2.0, happening Friday, Sept. 20. To visually represent the event, curators Courtney Martin and John Cary turned to the design firm Kiss Me I’m Polish, who created a set of posters keyed into the idea of collective creation.

See, these posters are customizable, made from a kit of parts that anyone can remix and remake. While TEDCity2.0 takes place in New York City, a web of self-organized TEDxCity2.0 events will be held across the globe over the same weekend. Kiss Me I’m Polish encouraged TEDx organizers to take the poster design and run with it, riffing on the imagery to reflect the flavor of their own city. They released a design guide for TEDx organizers with guidelines for creating a logo, a color palette, a library of shapes and detailed instructions for how to make images…

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The connection between sleep and mental health: A Q&A with circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster

I get it…but I’m still sleep deprived!!

TED Blog

RussellFoster-Q&AWe spend about a third of our lives asleep — a figure that may make all that time spent in bed seem like a waste. But according to neuroscientist Russell Foster, it is quite the opposite.

[ted_talkteaser id=1810]In today’s talk, given at TEDGlobal 2013, Foster explores why we sleep, a question which no one has been able to definitively answer. We know that it is vital for our general health, that is likely connected to memory consolidation and that, without it, we are more prone to accidents. In the talk, he also gives a few tips for getting better sleep and debunks some common sleep-related myths.

At the University of Oxford, Foster studies circadian rhythms — the internal 24-hour clocks that govern when we sleep, and that are partially regulated by exposure to light. According to his recent research, abnormal circadian rhythms are likely related to mental illness. Foster…

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Day #25 of Conditioning Month – This Is Not Getting Any Easier

unhappy dogThe month is very nearly over, and I cannot deny that some progress has been made on a number of fronts.

I can’t say that Nacho’s obedience is really any better than it used to be – not significantly, anyway – because he was never all that bad. He always did walk well on the leash, and doesn’t wander off if I drop the lead. He’ll come when I call him (as long as there’s food involved), and he seems to assume that whatever I do and whenever I do it there is probably food involved…

He gets very agitated when we meet other dogs in the street. He’ll begin to whine as soon as we see them, and will often pull on the leash to get at them, but if he does actually get up close and personal, he’ll frequently snarl and bare his teeth…which makes you wonder why he was so keen to get at the other dog in the first place.

I’d worked hard on basic sit and stay commands with him, and made some progress, but I rapidly realised that these commands would only work when used in a very specific context which involved me feeding him. I know we need to use treats for positive reinforcement of the training, but Nacho seems completely disinterested in listening to commands if he cannot specifically see the treat ready to be handed over. If I knew more about dog behavior maybe I could interpret this better, but he isn’t attentive in the way that Jasper (and most other dogs) seem to be. When you catch a dog’s attention, he will generally watch you, and when he’s watching you, you have a chance of getting a command across. Not with Nacho. He’s constantly glancing about. He’ll take a quick look at me now and then, or he’ll watch me very closely if he knows I’ve got something for him in my hand, but otherwise he just doesn’t pay much attention. Is this me not being the Alpha or is it him being terrified of everything? I don’t know.

At feeding time I make sure that both dogs do as they’re told, and in fairness they’re both very good. Nacho gets fed first (because he’s older…which seemed sensible to me), so I make him sit before I put down his bowl, then I make him stay and wait until I tell him he can eat. No problem. He’s good at that. I do the same with Jasper and he’s totally perfect (better than Nacho, because he always sits when I tell him to).

To me, that seems as though they both know who’s boss.

Where there could easily be a bit of disagreement is on where the two dogs stand in the hierarchy…I thought Nacho would be the boss as the older dog, but I’m not so sure. Maybe this is where Nacho has a problem when we’re out and about. Perhaps he feels as though he should be the senior dog, but just hasn’t got the balls to actually fill that role. As a result he stresses out about meeting other dogs and gets really confused about what to do.

I don’t get the feeling that Jasper sees Nacho as the senior dog, but it’s hard to read the signs from Jasper as he’s just in play mode all the time. He doesn’t roll over for Nacho, but will for me. He doesn’t back off if Nacho snarls either.

But there have been some positives with Nacho too. He’s begun playing – only individually at the moment, but that’s a big improvement on before. He will also occasionally assert himself when we’re walking and stop for a sniff. All dogs stop for a sniff, don’t they? Well not Nacho. He stops for nothing! When we’re out he just wants to walk, and would never even stop for a pee when we were out up until about a week ago. Then he began stopping now and then for a brief sniff, which graduated into stopping for a sniff and a pee. Now he’ll actually divert off the path when he spots something interesting and give me a little tug to get me to let him pause. So this is a good thing I guess, displaying a bit more confidence.

He gets ultra-excited when he discovers it’s walk time too. There couldn’t be a happier dog when it’s time to go. He spins in circles on the spot and wags like mad. Oddly he obeys the sit command every single time without fail when I’m about to put his leash on…

I am weary. Work is stressful, I’ve been up really late a few nights getting things done, I’m still on my own in the house for another few days, everything is a bit much. All this coupled with a pair of dogs who aren’t getting on well is enough to fray anyone’s nerves.

Nacho is not a bad dog at all. He is extremely attentive, following me everywhere and coming for a tickle everywhere I sit down, any time I sit down. He’ll sit and let me scratch behind his ear or under his chin forever if I want. On the lead he’s great as long as we don’t meet too many other animals, and because he’s all go, he could be a great asset to somebody trying to lose a pound or two…

The problem is he’s not the only dog in the house. Jasper is a great little dog. Always happy, always playful, a real character. You know that thing they say about dogs and unconditional love? With Jasper I get that 100%. Nacho’s a different sort of an animal and it’s just difficult to see how the two of them can ever be really happy as a duo. Tolerating each other isn’t enough, and it’s not fair on Jasper. He doesn’t deserve to be told off just because he’s a happy dog who wants to play.

Ok, if we had another Jasper I reckon we’d come home to the house turned upside down every day, but you know what? I’d rather that and see that happy little face than listen to J&N bickering with each other and see Jasper flopping in the corner all miserable because he’s been told off again.

This is tougher than I’d hoped or expected, and it isn’t done in a month as I’d envisaged.


Day #17 of Conditioning Month – Am I getting anywhere?

dog_pyramid_by_ksuksa_raykova-d4rgh1jCan you detect my feelings of despondency?

Ok, look, I do understand how difficult this is bound to be. Nacho is a damaged dawg, and that’s not going to get fixed overnight, but he has been with us for something like a month now, and I am struggling to see significant improvements. Well maybe that’s not entirely true…

Over the last few days I’ve been really trying to get some intensive training done here. That isn’t easy when you’ve got two dogs and one person!

Jasper isn’t in bad shape training-wise, as long as he’s not confused by the signals. I guess the challenge we never envisaged when we were training him though, was that we might need him to really specifically understand which instructions were for him and which were for other dogs. I thought we were doing ok with him, because quite often when I tell him to do something, he does it. The problem I’ve now discovered is that he obeys instructions that come out of my mouth, not instructions that are directed at him. So I’m trying to do a bit of joint training now, with each dog getting his own instructions. It’s not easy on your own. Maybe I should be looking to train Nacho in isolation for a while, but that really isn’t an option at the moment – just because we don’t have space and don’t have anywhere to isolate the two dogs where they can’t continue to distract one another.

Another one of the big issues I’m having with Nacho is that he will obey commands when we’re training, but when we’re in a situation that is identifiable as “not training” he will ignore me. Ok, I get the answer on this one. I have to vary the training contexts and I have to have treats in my pockets all the time so he can get the reward for doing the right thing wherever he might be. I get it, and I’m trying to do it…

We’re still working on trust a lot with Nacho. He still doesn’t like to get close to me when I’m standing up – like if I call him to me, he will come, and he will sit, but he’ll be about 3 feet away. Getting him to come the last yard is tough. He leans forward for the treat, whereas I’m trying to encourage him to come in close and get it.

He is still pretty much petrified of other people though, whereas I know he’ll stick close to me even if I drop his lead.

Some days I think we’re making progress, some days I think we’re getting nowhere…

At least the feeding side of things has improved. Nacho used to pick like a sparrow when he first arrived, and would pull little pieces of food out of his bowl to nibble at. He never ate a whole meal, and Jasper was loving getting leftovers all the time. Now he gets close to the end of his meal every time, and frequently leaves nothing behind for the other guy (which doesn’t go down well). But Nacho still follows me everywhere looking for treats and scraps. Even immediately after eating his dinner, if I go anywhere near the utility room where the treats are, he chases me down and gets real excited. I suspect this harks back to his previous home where we think he only got fed scraps, and hence looks for every opportunity to grab anything that is going at any time…because he might not see anything else for a while.

I get the feeling that there’s still some disagreement/confusion between the two dogs about who is the highest in the pecking order. It’s clear that they both know that I’m the boss, and I pretty much call the shots, but I’m beginning to think that some of Nacho’s behavioral traits are because he’s stressing out about the responsibility of being higher up the ranks than Jasper.

I’ve been placing Nacho as the lead dog most of the time, simply because he’s the eldest, and does have some character traits I’d quite like Jasper to get the hang of when he gets older, but Nacho gets very agitated when we come across some other dogs out on the walk. He whines and whimpers and just seems really like he doesn’t know what to do. If he gets close in with other dogs, he almost invariably gets close (wagging) has a sniff then snarls at the other guy. I’m thinking perhaps he thinks he’s supposed to be protecting somebody (me or Jasper perhaps). I’m not dog whisperer, but I’m trying to piece together what’s going on in his head so I can try to counteract it.

With Jasper I’m not sure that he really cares where he is in the pecking order…I’m not even sure Jasper realises that there IS a pecking order!

It’s complicated, and tiring, and to be honest a little stressful. Only a few more days of Ramadan to get through and at least then there’ll be a few more places to go recreationally to get away from it all (you don’t miss Starbucks until you can’t go there). Once the whether starts to cool down there are also a few places we can take the dogs for a walk that are not just around here. Jasper would love the beach…but I don’t think there are any nearby right now that you can smuggle a dog onto…

Dot What Now?

5_LessonsThere’s a cyclic nature to things that hits you now and then…I guess because that’s what cyclic things do…no and then, depending upon their frequency…

I mentioned the other day that I’d just created a bunch of additional work for myself, and rather than spend my weekend kicking back and eating pizza, it’s this additional work that’s been occupying at least some of my time. Another feasibility study is needed and a plan to roll out a new part of the business – one that falls (for now, at least) entirely under my sphere of influence, and hence needs me to get the thing started. That’s not a problem. I’m fairly excited about it really, and this blob of the business could end up becoming my long term home (although I will continue to camp out in most of the other parts of the business too for the foreseeable future).

What’s caught my attention though is that I’m back writing business plans with a view to attracting investment, which is something I haven’t had to do since around the turn of the millennium…coincidentally, the time of the dot-com boom/bust.

I remember back at that time I got the opportunity to participate in a business development programme which provided some training, office space and mentoring, with assistance on how to get yourself funded up. There were fifteen companies accepted into the programme – mine being one – and we spent a whole year going through the process. Of the fifteen companies who ran the programme at the same time as me, all but about four where directly internet related, based directly on the idea of providing a specific service via the web.

Only two of us were in the manufacturing business.

By about six months in, at least 50% had dropped out and gone out of business. Only about 5 of the businesses actually came out of the other end of the programme intact, pursuing the same idea they’d begum with. As of today I only know of three of those original businesses that are still going, and one of those is doing something completely different than they started out with.


But that’s not my point today. When I began the programme I wasn’t actually looking specifically for large scale investment, I just wanted to get my business up a running. I was profitable anyway, and had revenue even before I began on the programme. Of course, additional money would have been useful, but my plans were pragmatic and involved predominantly organic growth (oh the folly of youth…). Most of the others had no revenue at all and were attempting to raise very large sums of cash, with business plans that showed break even in year 3+ in some cases. People would laugh at me when I said I really only needed a couple of hundred thousand Euro. Most of the others were looking for millions…and yet they had no actual businesses, and although I didn’t really receive any of the investment that would have been useful, my little business outlasted nearly all of the others.

I learned some immensely useful lessons during that period, lessons that changed me as a person and probably made me able to do what I do now. One of those lessons was that if you don’t ask you won’t get. Another was that if you’re going to ask, ask for plenty.


The Situational Approach to Crime Prevention

kid at doorThere were quite a number of people who contributed in the form of research and analysis to the concept/approach that was eventually described by Ronald V. Clarke in around 1995 as Situational Crime Prevention. At its core is the idea that by reducing or removing the opportunities for crime, less crime can occur – a thoroughly logical and straight forward idea that I have a great deal of time for. In particular, and with a great deal of experience of the various attempts at crime prevention that have been attempted down the years, this idea gets away from an approach that attempts to reduce crime by understanding the motivation for crime, then attempts to demotivate the potential perpetrator. Such approaches seem to me to be based on the utterly nonsensical belief that anyone can ever understand what is going on inside somebody else’s head.

At it’s core, the idea of SCP is built upon some fundamental pillars :

  • Target hardening – build a physical perimeter around the asset that is appropriate for reducing the ability to attack the asset
  • Access control – put in place measures to prevent people from gaining access to the asset in an uncontrolled manner
  • Surveillance – make the asset visible and make the approaches to the asset also visible
  • Target removal – where possible do not keep the asset in the location at all
  • Property identification – always ensure that it is clear to everyone that the property where the asset is kept is private
  • Reduce temptation – reduce the perceived value and increase the perceived risk
  • Alerting conscience – ensure that everyone knows what crime is and that it is not acceptable
  • Controlling factors that undermine constraint – remove the potentially enabling factors from the environment
  • Making compliance easier – offer options for alternative behavior

In my next post on this subject I am going to explore some typical crimes and show how SCP offers a potential to reduce or prevent crime in the real world.

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