Monday, July 8

computer security

This is a reduced form of my earlier (dense, and rambling) "endpoint security" post.

* * * * *

A computer is secure when the person responsible for it understands what it is doing.

* * * * *

Here's how I think that looks when integrated with the fundamental design principles of the internet (the "internet golden rules"), derived from --

Rule 1: You SHOULD be liberal in what you accept, and be conservative
        in what you produce.

Rule 2: You SHOULD NOT use potentially harmful constructs (even
        if they are allowed in the restricted case you are using them

Rule 3: You SHOULD NOT munge (do not change protocol you get and
        resend, in particular do not try to correct incorrect protocol

Rule 4: Systems SHOULD be designed to educate the user about their function,
        and about how they are operating.

The above rules are "SHOULD" instead of "MUST" because they require judgement calls. (capitalizing these words, like this, carries a specific meaning in the context of internet rfcs).

These rules are useful in design meetings, to help distinguish between good and bad design decisions.

These rules were not adequate to prevent spam, and there is a very interesting lesson to be learned from how that went down. But note, also, that spam arose without the "educate the user" rule.

I am not linking to my earlier post on endpoint security because anyone needing the link (without the patience to search for it  themselves) will not have the patience to read the thing.

Wednesday, July 3

The Tillamook Burn

"The Tillamook Burn" is a name for four forest fires that happened in Tillamook Oregon.  One event in the burn happened in 1933.

As the current wikipedia page puts it:

"On the 24th, the humidity dropped rapidly to 26 per cent and hot gale-force winds from the east sprang up. During the next 20 hours of August 24th and 25th the fire burned over an additional 420 square miles, or at a rate of 21 square miles per hour along a 15-mile front. The fire was stopped only by the fact that the wind ceased and a thick, wet blanket of fog drifted in from the ocean."

We grew up not too far from there, and Dad would occasionally take us out to see "Tillamook". He'd talk to the locals and see what stories they had to tell about it.

One recurring theme that interested him was how on that day trees were thrown out into the ocean.

Wikipedia does not record this detail, and i have not been able to find any google hits that mention the trees being thrown into the water. But what I do read in the wikipedia seems consistent with that kind of information. "hot gale-force winds from the east sprang up".

The way Dad told it, these winds were a consequence of the fire. Hot air rises, and when it gets hot enough, it rises quickly. This particular forest fire had managed to get hot enough to create its own gale force wind.

Normally, winds blow in off the ocean and are stopped by the Coast Range (the minor mountains which start near the Oregon beaches). And, reading the wikipedia, the normal winds off the ocean played a role in dampening this fire back down.

Oregon has a lot of trees, and in Dad's opinion understanding something about forest fires, and how people deal with them, was something that everyone ought to know, living there.

Apparently, forests have had forest fires throughout the ages. Typically, forest fires would not go very far before dying out. However, because of property damage risks, we prevent forest fires and put them out as soon as we spot them. We do not, on a systematic basis, address the issues which make forest fires likely in the first place. But clear cut logging probably does, in some sense, prevent forest fires. Meanwhile, some people risk their lives to deal with these things and there does not seem to be any better option for them.

We (our family) would also go and see locations where Oregon has "the world's largest" tree, of various species of trees. And, Dad would talk about recent historical records of trees that used to stand not too far from there (up near British Columbia) which were much bigger than any of the current world records. Apparently, other places in the world had long since cut down their large trees. (Also, probably, the part of the world which oregon is a part of was just better for large trees than other locations?)

I needed to mention Dad here, because he was a primary source of my information. I might have conveyed the impression here that Dad was obsessed about trees - but that's mostly because I have made the decision to not talk about a number of other topics which I think would be related, if I were talking about Dad.

Tuesday, July 2

Western Civilization

Western Civilization rules the world. The english speaking world of course, and the spanish speaking world. Both of these are remnants of past empires. But also, in the guise of Karl Marx, the Chinese peoples and the Russian peoples are "ruled" by "Western Civilization". And, now that we have a global economy, these effects are pervasive.

That's kind of impressive, when you think about it.

And maybe just a bit terrifying.

The "Eastern" variants of western civilization are particularly passionate. When China adopted Marx's philosophies, the first thing they did was round up and kill "all of their intellectuals", for obvious reasons. These were their leaders, after all, and would have prevented the Chinese from adopting western civilization. It was a tried and true formula.


Wait, how did Karl Marx get to represent Western Civilization? Wasn't he opposed to ... well, almost everything?

Let's take a look, for a moment, at the real heart of Western Civilization. This is the institution that is the gold standard. The Catholic Church. This institution has stood for nearly 2000 years (in some sense it got started about year 400, but many people will happily explain how they can trace back their roots to earlier years). And, in the guise of the Vatican, they are even their own country with their own laws.

Laws are something we venerate, in western civilization.

Now, if you look at history, you can find records of how the Catholic Church got started. Apparently some roman leader found it useful to enforce the christian religion. This combined the military might of Rome with an ideal that helped unify the people.

It was, in some sense "a quick hack". And, a surprisingly stable hack.

But every time we have had an advance in communications technology we wind up re-examining ourselves, and our roots, from new perspectives.

So let's take a fresh look at the Roman Catholic Church. It's ... pretty.

They've also been in the news a lot. Apparently, like pretty much everyone else, they've got some bad apples.

And here's an odd thing - there's almost no coverage of child abuse cases in the news. Child abuse is apparently a worldwide epidemic, and news is not really above the boring problems, it's about the exciting, rare problems. No one wants to hear about the common risks. People die in traffic accidents every day, but it's rare outliers like shark attacks which make the news.

On the other hand, "child porn" is something that strikes fear in the heart of... well, pretty much everyone.

This is basic to who we are.

I'd like to propose a change in terminology, to let us see to the heart of this terror.

Instead of talking about "paedophilia" let's talk about "the rape of children" and "child rapists".  Instead of talking about "child porn" let's talk about "evidence of child rape".

This change in terminology will not solve anything, but maybe it will let us see what is really happening.

Will it? Do these terms have any accuracy?

If google translate works for you, or if you can read swedish, check this out:

Of course this is just an outlier. It's just one incident. In some sense, it's a consequence of new technology, which results in new ways of seeing things and tighter enforcement of law.

It's perhaps also a reflection of autism (which seems to be in some way related to mercury poisoning). Autism is a form of brain damage which effects how social cues are perceived. Autistic people can be incredibly brilliant, but sometimes they are just a bit too literal.

So, being reasonable, how does the Roman Catholic Church really work? How has it survived all these years? What is its purpose?

If you ask an expert, you can expect a huge volume of material. It's overwhelming in scope.

So here's my own summary, from my point of view:

The church is concerned with saving people. It has a political structure which is removed from the concerns of everyday life, and a lay population which aims at conquering the world simply by living good lives, growing families, and outlasting everyone else.

That's really an incredible philosophy. You can defeat any military organization simply by waiting. Military occupations are necessarily brief - they are incredibly inefficient, and once people die they cannot fight. So if you can be the people that survive these outbreaks of violence, your people can be the ultimate winners.

This can be expedited by getting other people to fight. If people are inclined to fight, you can set them up against each other and they will destroy each other and you can go on living peacefully.

Um ...

So, anyways, that leads us to today's world. We have the catholic church representing this doctrine of peace, and providing us a means to military victory.

The problem is, this is still just a quick hack.

One of the problems the church faces is feminism. A little lady by the name of Emma Goldman got just a bit fed up with the situation she was in, and she said some things which were inappropriate for the time. Some of the things she said were perhaps even inappropriate for our time (if you are in the wrong place, anyways).

See, historically, we have treasured our women. We still do. Also, men tend to be stronger, so when it comes to issues like picking up a big sharp piece of metal and cutting other people open? Men are just better at that than women. Plus, women are bette suited for raising children. Women have boobs and can feed the youngsters.

It's just simple common sense.

Or it was.

Nowadays, what this all means is that a people who have done the most thinking and writing about moral issues are priests. To get in the door, they must swear off any interest in sexual activities. Except, being human, they are still sexual creatures. In some sense, it's almost tantric in character, except more so.

So we have an ethical system, and moral system, which is written by people struggling against sexual pleasure. And, that's been a fascinatingly seductive struggle.

The problem is that it also lends itself to distorting our perceptions of ourselves.

If we listen to these guys, we will hear a story about the nature of sin and the evils of the world. And, in some sense, this message was meant to be disobeyed. It takes a lot of time and energy to work up the energy and resources to raise a child, and this message does a pretty decent job of focussing people's attention on the stuff that matters - preparation. And when people break the rules and actually have kids? No big deal, we just get them married and now they will support each other and the child.

Catholic families are notoriously large, because of this strategy. You are not supposed to enjoy sex, you are supposed to fight against it, which makes it more fun, till finally you just have to and... another child. Or, just as validly, children are a blessing and within the institution of marriage you should be blessed (except this attitude seems to not result in families which are quite so large).

Still, there's some topics which just stop conversation. Like, child porn.

Child porn is the ultimate evil. It strikes fear into the hearts of... well... everyone. If someone goes to jail for child abuse they'll probably not live very long. It's terrible and terrifying.

Wait, wasn't I going to rephrase this? Let's try this again:

Evidence of child rape is the ultimate evil. It strikes fear into the hearts of... well... everyone. If someone goes to jail for child abuse they'll probably not live very long. It's terrible and terrifying.


See the problem is that when kids hit puberty, they become unruly and rebellious and teenage pregnancy is an epidemic.  Well... actually... this is a consequence of how we raise our children. If you try to take advantage of "what comes naturally" to grow your population, you run into what some people call the Westermarck effect.  Thus, for example, Japan has a shrinking population and a public policy of expanding their population also allows pornography at a level which many countries object to - and their population shrinks.

China, on the other hand, has an overpopulation problem and a problem feeding everyone and has had to resort to draconian measures to keep it from getting worse. As a part of this effort, they have strict limits of decency - emulating, in some sensse, the morality of the catholic church.

This issue is very hard to reason about, because we have all agreed that our children our precious and we do not want to hurt them, and no one wants to face the wrath of angry parents protecting their children.

Except it's not really that way. Sexual interest was always only an occasional thing, even for adults. Children aren't really all that interested in it. They'll make jokes about poop and farts and whatever else that's unpleasant, maybe to provoke reactions, but it's not until we become adults that we start being obsessed by sexual activity. And, as we know from watching numerous marriages fail, sex becomes rather boring when it's not scarce.

And, as we know from the feminist movement and the cosmetic industry while we want to admire sexual beauty, people aren't really all that attractive. To be really seductive, we put on clothes and let imagination run free.


wait a minute, where's the great satan? We have people dying out there, by the millions. Something horribly evil is behind it all.


It's the bogeyman.

We are terrified of failing our children. As children we are simply terrified. We demonize victims of child rape (there are studies which show that victims of child rape are more likely to become child rapists when they are adults).

And we have strict laws against this kind of thing, with strict jurisdictions which mean that those laws have strict limits. They don't really mean anything. So we solve that by enforcing these rules using mechanisms other than the law.

Anyways, personally, I think it's all a sham.

Sex has a variety of aspects, and some are pleasant, some are disgusting, some are just boring, some are hard work, some are exhausting. It's not really that hard to deal with, and it's not all that scary.


Actually, it's scary, scary stuff. There's a damn good reason we in the U.S. have no problem exposing our kids to violence but sex is "adult only". We are running out of space. Overpopulation causes wars. People starve, they need food, we'll run out of oil.

Thus, for example, the Iraq War, which was supposedly about weapons of mass destruction but was really about getting access to future resources - we need to prepare the world so our children are safe.

Scary, scary stuff.

The world isn't ready to hear this.


Actually, I think almost everyone has long since figured it out.

The jig is up.

So here's a message to the kind folk representing the Vatican: we really appreciate the gift of civilization. We love you all to death. We promise to not try and be too literal about that. It's time to step out and take a bow.

Also, for the benefit of our autistic population, we really ought to establish classes on how to flirt. The essence of flirting is recognizing when we are getting beyond their comfort levels, and some people need to have the rules for that spelled out explicitly.

And for all the farmers in China - yeah. Chairman Mao missed his target. Congratulations.

Love you.

Monday, July 1


Meiosis is a term used to describe division of cells prior to sexual reproduction. It's used by bacteria, by plants, by animals, and of course by mammals.

Meiosis follows a long preparatory process, and is similar in some ways to the cell division process used when growing. Generally speaking, you start with a single diploid cell (which has chromosome pairs) and wind up with four haploid cells (which has unpaired chromosomes waiting to pair up with those from another organism).

In mammals (including humans), female meiosis happens before the mammal is born (for humans, it's when the female is about five months old) while male meiosis does not begin until after puberty (and presumably continues for most of the rest of the life of the male).  Also, in female mammal meiosis, only one of the set of four haploid cells produced by meiosis gets retained as an Oocyte (an "egg").

Note also that sexual reproduction includes asexual element: mitochondria. Mitochondria are haploid cells which are essential to metabolism (essential to life). Mitochondria are retained during meiosis in both sexes, but after sex only the mother's mitochondria are retained. Retaining the integrity of mitochondria might have something to do with why female meiosis happens before birth.  Mitochondria are characteristic of "animals". "Plants" have something else to keep them alive (chlorophyll).

Genetic searching is a robust searching technique used by computer programmers when dealing with a search problem which is too intricate for a lesser search algorithm. The details of this kind of algorithm are patterned after sexual reproduction and the behavior of algorithm is in some sense similar to the concept of "evolution".  In other words, this kind of system can be useful when dealing with complicated situations.

There's also something interesting in how much meiosis matters even when it's "not happening". This time is called "interphase" in literature describing meiosis. Normal people would probably call this "preparation".