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Who secures the securers?

Tuesday, 27 September, 2016 0 Comments

Last week, the respected cyber-safety research site, Krebs on Security, was taken down by one of the most severe DDoS attack (distributed denial of service) assaults ever recorded. Worryingly, it was launched using a botnet of vast numbers of IoT devices — web cams, home routers, digital video recorders, door locks and so on.

Dan Goodin at Ars Technica pointed out that makers of these devices design them to be as inexpensive and easy-to-use as possible, but there’s a downside:

“As a result, the devices frequently come with bug-ridden firmware that never gets updated and easy-to-guess login credentials that never get changed. Their lax security and always-connected status makes the devices easy to remotely commandeer by people who turn them into digital cannons that spray the Internet with shrapnel.”

Goodin notes that IoT malware is creating a tipping point in the denial-of-service area that’s equipping relatively unsophisticated actors with capabilities that were once reserved only for the most elite of attackers. “And that, in turn, represents a threat to the Internet as we know it,” he adds.

The good news is that Krebs on Security is back online, but the take-down is alarming.

How to Win an Election with Cicero

Monday, 26 September, 2016 0 Comments

It is being reported that the television audience for tonight’s debate at Hofstra University in New York between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could top 100 million. At this point in the US presidential race, many voters will have made up their minds but there is always the chance that one of the candidates might say or do something tonight that could influence the media’s interpretation of the debate. And it is the media that will decide the “winner” and the “loser”.

Whatever the reading of the debate, however, the battle will continue tomorrow. With the polls suggesting that the outcome is too close to call, it’s all to campaign for, which means it’s time to consult Cicero.

In 64 BC, the great orator Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for consul, the highest office in the Roman Republic. He was 42 and successful, but he was not a member of the ruling elite, and that was a major disadvantage. Still, he had a trump card, so to speak: the Commentariolum Petitionis, or “Little Handbook on Electioneering,” which some historians believe was written by his brother Quintus. Regardless of the authorship, the writer knew his Roman politics, which sound remarkably familiar.

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians by Quintus Tullius Cicero was translated by Philip Freeman and published in 2012 by Princeton Press. Snippets:

  • Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm. But in an election you need to think of friendship in broader terms than in everyday life. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill or seeks out your company.
  • There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people. You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors. So much more so all those you have greatly helped, who must be made to understand that if they don’t support you now they will lose all public respect. But do go to them in person and let them know that if they back you in this election you will be in their debt.
  • You must have a wide variety of people around you on a daily basis. Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers. The three types of followers are those who greet you at home, those who escort you down to the Forum, and those who accompany you wherever you go.
  • You desperately need to learn the art of flattery — a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office. If you use flattery to corrupt a man there is no excuse for it, but if you apply ingratiation as a way to make political friends, it is acceptable. For a candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary.
  • Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul. If you look closed and distracted when people talk with you, it won’t matter that your front gates are never locked. People not only want commitments from a candidate but they want them delivered in an engaged and generous manner.

Cicero famously defeated Catiline, but he made many enemies during that race for consul and both he and his brother, Quintus, were murdered two decades later during the strife that accompanied the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire.


When Dublin had buses

Sunday, 25 September, 2016 0 Comments

The capital of Ireland is being subjected to a ransom, er, strike by drivers employed by Dublin Bus. The five unions representing the drivers are seeking a whopping 15% pay increase over the next three years along with a 6% rise they say they were due to get under an agreement in 2009, but which was deferred. They have rejected a recommended 8.25% increase over the next three years. Meanwhile, the helpless commuters are being exposed to further misery and humiliation by one of Europe’s truly sub-standard public transport services.

In the 1970s, when Dublin was considerably less prosperous than it is today, the city had buses and their erratic presence was captured by John Wilfrid Hinde, an English photographer, whose nostalgic postcards of Ireland have acquired cult status.

Dublin buses in the 1970s

Dublin buses in the 1970s

Dublin buses in the 1970s

Season of mists and mellows

Saturday, 24 September, 2016 0 Comments

Autumn mist

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

To Autumn by John Keats

Havana Moon

Saturday, 24 September, 2016 0 Comments

Good Friday, 25 March 2016: The Rolling Stones play a huge, free outdoor concert in Havana. The show was filmed by Paul Dugdale and the result, HAVANA MOON, was premiered on cinema screens around the world for one night only, last night. It was a mighty concert and the film captures the essence of the history it represented. Standout songs: Midnight Rambler, with Mick Jagger at his balletic best; Gimme Shelter, with Sasha Allen providing backing vocals and sexy interaction, and a stunning version of Satisfaction that will forever be remembered by those who have had the good fortune to see and hear the greatest rock band, ever.

Bruce Springsteen: Tougher Than the Rest

Friday, 23 September, 2016 0 Comments

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born on this day in 1949 in Long Branch, New Jersey. In his new book, Born to Run, he reveals that far from being tougher than the rest always, he’s struggled like the most of us at times. You see, Springsteen suffers from clinical depression, for which he has sought relief through therapy and antidepressants. This makes his resilience and endurance all the more remarkable. But he’s never quit, he doesn’t give up and then there are all those fans: “Waiting for you to pull something out of your hat, out of thin air, out of this world, something that before the faithful were gathered here today was just a song-fueled rumor.”

“She was Italian, funny, a beatific tomboy, with just the hint of a lazy eye, and wore a pair of glasses that made me think of the wonders of the library.” — Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Robots: The Warehouse Workers of the Near Future

Thursday, 22 September, 2016 0 Comments

The story involves a logistics company and grocery empire run by a modest New England billionaire. Most people will be unfamiliar with Symbotic LLC and Rick Cohen and C&S Wholesale Grocers but they are at the forefront of a move to show that that robots can manage the storing, handling and hauling of goods that retailers deal with in vast amounts each year.

Fully Autonomous Robots: The Warehouse Workers of the Near Future by Robbie Whelan of the Wall Street Journal describes Cohen’s brave new vision: “His strategy has two prongs: Install robots in C&S warehouses to serve grocery chains, and sell them to companies that have their own distribution facilities. Over the next year, Symbotic plans to roll out nearly a dozen fully-automated food warehouses across the country from Pennsylvania to California, serving grocery chains.”

One of Symbotic’s selling points is what it calls “Capital Recovery”, which goes like this:

“Often companies find that an automation system optimizes their operations enough to justify combining two warehouses into one. Additionally, the capital they can recover from selling the second warehouse can offset the cost of the system. The capital recovery model allows customers to exceed their operational demands while recovering capital from unnecessary facilities and/or resources.”

Robbie Whelan points out that Rick Cohen’s success is driven by his fascination with fat — not of midriff variety, but of the administrative kind:

Mr. Cohen said he became interested in robotics because of a lifelong passion for cutting fat at his family business. His grandfather, Israel Cohen, founded C&S in Worcester, Mass., in 1918. Mr. Cohen became CEO in 1989 and is sole owner.

“Taking waste out is fascinating to me,” Mr. Cohen said. “I walk through a warehouse, and everyone sees what’s happening, and I see what’s not happening.”

Typically, the Daily Mail trashed Rick Cohen’s privacy when it published “Revealed, America’s most modest billionaire: Tycoon worth $11bn is so down-to-earth that neighbors don’t recognize him – on street where average home is $294,000.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Wednesday, 21 September, 2016 0 Comments

Mobile super-computing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, AI, neuro-technological brain enhancements, chatbots, the Internet of Things… It’s a revolution! “The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed,” says Marta Chierego, who directed this clip for The World Economic Forum.

“The second industrial revolution has yet to be fully experienced by 17% of the world as nearly 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity…

…The fourth industrial revolution, however, is not only about smart and connected machines and systems. Its scope is much wider. Occurring simultaneously are waves of further breakthroughs in areas ranging from gene sequencing to nanotechnology, from renewables to quantum computing. It is the fusion of these technologies and their interaction across the physical, digital and biological domains that make the fourth industrial revolution fundamentally different from previous revolutions.” — Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The abnormal Trump and the normal Clinton

Tuesday, 20 September, 2016 0 Comments

Writing in USA TODAY, Michael Wolff declares: Abnormal Trump catches up to normal Clinton. Drawing a parallel with Britain the recent Brexit campaign, Wolff notes: “A vote to have Britain exit the European Union was a vote against the organizational norm that’s created a functioning and prosperous society and in favor of the unknown. And that’s exactly what 52% of Britons promptly, and for the other 48% inexplicably, voted for.” This, argues Wolff, puts Mrs Clinton in tricky position:

“Although the Remain side ran as a stalwart of the norm, it chose not to defend it or certainly to promote it. It merely warned of the ghastly consequences of its loss. Similarly, the Clinton campaign has rather turned the presidential race into a straight up referendum between the norm (and, hence, an acceptance of much of what you are currently dissatisfied with) and something outside it. Indeed, Clinton has no real calling card except being anti-abnormal Trump.

Trump’s calling card is, of course, being Trump, precisely an alternative to the norm.”

The liberal incomprehension about what’s going in this presidential campaign “has to do with the logical fallacy of comparing the normal to the abnormal,” says Wolff. Will abnormal become the new normal? The polls suggest that, as in Britain, there’s an appetite for a new norm as the abnormal Trump catches up to the normal Clinton.

Emmys for The Night Manager

Monday, 19 September, 2016 0 Comments

Good to see that Susanne Bier won the Best Directing award for The Night Manager at the Emmys in Los Angeles last night. It beat out HBO’s All the Way, directed by Jay Roach; Fargo, directed by Noah Hawley and The People v. O.J. Simpson directed by Ryan Murphy. At last weekend’s Creative Arts Awards portion of the Emmys, composer Victor Reyes picked up the Outstanding Music Composition award for The Night Manager.

“It’s a very rare thing, Jonathan Pine, for me to trust a person, but you were special. You were from the first moment I saw you. Saved my son, risked your life. Should’ve known something was wrong.” — Richard Roper

“Promise to build a chap a house, he won’t believe you. Threaten to burn his place down, he’ll do what you tell him. Fact of life.” — Richard Roper

Hodge and his lexicographer

Sunday, 18 September, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1709, Samuel Johnson was born. The poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer spent nine years writing his Dictionary of the English Language, which was published in 1755 and continues to enlighten and amuse: “Oats: a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”

The drudgery of lexicography was alleviated somewhat by Hodge, a cat the good doctor loved, and his friend and biographer James Boswell found Johnson’s relationship with Hodge so important that he preserved it for posterity:

“I never shall forget the indulgence with which he treated Hodge, his cat; for whom he himself used to go out and buy oysters, lest the servants, having that trouble, should take dislike to the poor creature. I am, unluckily one of those who have an antipathy to a cat, so that I am uneasy when in the room with one; and I own, I frequently suffered a good deal from the presences of this same Hodge. I recollect him one day scrambling up Dr. Johnson’s breast, apparently with much satisfaction, while my friend smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail; and when I observed he was a fine cat, saying why, yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this; and then as if perceiving Hodge to be out of countenance, adding, but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.”

Hodge is remembered by a bronze statue outside the house at 17 Gough Square in London he shared with Johnson and Barber, Johnson’s black manservant and heir. The statue shows the cat sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells atop a copy of Johnson’s dictionary, with the inscription “a very fine cat indeed”.