Category Archives: History

Less structure is more for telecoms?

There was so much to do today I almost did not have time to digest some of the important information in the news about security. Take the BBC report about Somali telecoms for example, which they gave the rather suggestive title “Telecoms thriving in lawless Somalia”.

Mr Abdullahi says the warlords realise that if they cause trouble for the phone companies, the phones will stop working again, which nobody wants.

“We need good relations with all the faction leaders. We don’t interfere with them and they don’t interfere with us. They want political power and we leave them alone,” he says.

There’s something beneath the surface of this story that I can’t quite put my finger on yet, but I find it disturbing. Communication and media control is almost always one of the main tenets related to seizing political power, and yet we are told that the “warlords” don’t want to interfere with phone companies? This conclusion defies logic, and so I feel like I’m searching for a better explanation or understanding of market/political forces going on there, and why the telecoms are so resiliant that they have no need for physical security.

“All the infrastructure of the country has collapsed – education, health and roads. We need to send our staff abroad for any training.”

Another problem for companies engaged in the global telecoms business is paying their foreign partners.

At present, they use Somalia’s traditional “Hawala” money transfer companies to get money to Dubai, the Middle East’s trading and financial hub.

With a government would come a central bank, which would make such transactions far easier.

The article goes on to say that the telecoms look forward to taxes, once a government exists again, but hope that the percentage of their revenues will remain low while all the infrastructure of the country is rebuilt. Wishful thinking.

Here is an alternative theory: Somalia is evolving into a new structure that we might benefit from evaluating without any preconception of what constitutes a “nation” with taxes and fair “representation”. For some reason this reminds me of the origins of the nation-state in Italy when small groups of “freemen” joined in a common purpose, expressly independent of a monarch but without much else defined. Perhaps Somalis are not only ready to revisit that problem, but come up with new answers based on a new market of information and technology.

The shockingly lower market costs of cell service are really not all that new, I guess. Cell phones have been wildly successful in many countries where infrastructure is seen/made to be prohibitive. Brazil, for example, had a waiting list of years and a slew of high fees for any kind of land-line, yet the introduction of cell service meant just about anyone could afford to have service in a week’s time or less.

Here’s another odd story along the same lines (ha ha), from the Register, called “Need cheap DSL? Go to Rwanda”:

Wyler arrived in Rwanda two years ago, looking for aid work as a teacher. While hunting down a job, he ran across a project to put computers in Rwandan schools and link them to the internet via satellite connections. The plan, which included the purchase of $2,300 PCs, appeared too expensive and inefficient to Wyler. Why purchase expensive computers and then deliver just 64kbps connections to the students?

“The thing is that money is not the problem,” Wyler said. “The problem is the way they spend it. You’ll find that a lot of money goes to consultants and to buy $2,300 computers when a $500 computer will do. So, I started a company to try and give them an idea of how to do this.”

Wyler zeroed in on building out the country’s networking infrastructure. If you’re going to buy computers, they may as well connect to the internet at a useful speed – 300kbps and up – and at an affordable price.
Over the next few years, Terracom will work with Sun Microsystems to put 20,000 thin client computers in hundreds of Rwandan schools. The thin clients do not have power hungry processors, disk drives or fans and require about 20W as compared to a 200W PC. The power savings should make it possible to run the thin clients on solar power, according to Wyler.

Fascinating project. The people with access to this infrastructure will undoubtedly benefit, as will the telecoms, but will their country? Note the irony in Wyler’s concern about pre-existing infrastructure:

“Everybody wants us to do this in their country,” Wyler said. “In order for us to even think about expanding, the country would need to have a political environment that is clean and forward thinking. If we can get the computing density up in Rwanda, then it’s a great model for these other countries.”

Ah, but what if you don’t start off with the presumption that stability of a nation is required, just the ability of all the warlords/politicians to agree to leave telecoms alone for the greater good? Here’s an analogy that might help make the point, although I admit it is a bit esoteric: In western/european music drummers are basically required to keep time in a rigid structure that presumes everything is a subdivision of a universal law/rule. If the tempo is 100, for example, then you can play at 50, 25, 10, etc. or sometimes even in thirds if you want to be a little crazy and try to bend the rules. African drumming, on the other hand, is based on a phrase (sample) played by someone that runs in a repeating sequence. The other beats are thus played in relation to an agreed-upon phrase, not really a subject of the phrase or defined by it, but more in a kind of agreement not to be too far off a common/shared goal (rhythm). It looks like chaos to the outsider who has been trained to dole out the Western tempos into legal parcels of time, but some might argue that the Africans actually end up with a simpler and more resiliant structure that produces a comparable, if not superior, output for consumption.

A whole new way of governance might someday emerge from the creative use of information technology to break down the sense of nationalism that we all now take for granted. If nothing else, radio transmissions will continue to seriously challenge anyone who hopes to secure information.

Google’s latest double-standard

InformationWeek published an interesting review of Google’s desktop search tool:

By using Search Across Computers, employees are transmitting confidential company documents outside existing security systems. The means of transmission and storage (for the limited time documents are on its servers) aren’t understood, because Google hasn’t explained them. Additionally, the Google Desktop software provides no mechanism for indicating when data is uploaded to a server, when it’s accessed by your second computer and when it’s deleted from Google’s servers. We just don’t know.

If Google is going to play in the software market, it needs to take responsibility for communicating what its software does and does not do, in conjunction with the software release. It needs to be more respectful of the burden on security/IT professionals and enable features that help them protect their data. We all know that Google will do no evil, but they need to help make sure that they don’t enable it either.

Ouch. One would think they might be headed more in the direction of greater privacy, not less, given a brewing backlash from consumers and the gov’t. In fact, I’ve been working diligently with some folks to scan and uncover Google code on enterprise systems in order to cleanly remove it from afar. It surprises me how many admins are starting to categorize the Googley software in the same context as Kazaa, Gator, and other infamous and rather misleading “helper” applications. As the value of privacy goes up will the value of Google, which seems to rely on others’ openness, go down?

The Cult of the Dead Cow “Goolag” t-shirt campaign is quite harsh:

Rumsfeld, 9/11 and Saddam Hussein

Thad Anderson, a law school grad student who runs, has posted some interesting documents that show the Bush administration immediately started looking for ways to link Saddam Hussein to the attack on September 11th, 2001:

On July 23, 2005, I submitted an electronic Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense seeking DoD staffer Stephen Cambone’s notes from meetings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Cambone’s notes were cited heavily in the 9/11 Commission Report’s reconstruction of the day’s events. On February 10, 2006, I received a response from the DoD which includes partially-redacted copies of Cambone’s notes. The documents can be viewed as a photo set on Flickr.

The released notes document Donald Rumsfeld’s 2:40 PM instructions to General Myers to find the “[b]est info fast . . . judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time – not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden]” (as discussed on p. 334-335 of the 9/11 Commission Report and in Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack).

Sometimes, in an investigation, it is handy to start off with a hypothesis and look for supporting evidence. On the other hand, in most situations it is usually best to keep an open mind and let the facts speak for themselves, in order to avoid hasty or false conclusions or wrongful associations. It is always hard in a crisis to move quickly and yet practice caution. According to these notes Rumsfeld not only started with a hypothesis, but he seems to actually have ordered his staff to work under a foregone conclusion and find facts to support it/him.

Finally, these documents unveil a previously undisclosed part of the 2:40 PM discussion. Several lines below the “judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. at same time” line, Cambone’s notes from the conversation read: “Hard to get a good case.”

The Guardian has picked up the story here, with the obvious conclusion:

…these notes confirm that Baghdad was in the Pentagon’s sights almost as soon as the hijackers struck.

Wildwood Flower (I’ll Twine Mid the Ringlets)

by Maud Irving, 1860


I'll twine 'mid the ringlets
  Of my raven black hair,
The lilies so pale
  And the roses so fair,
 The myrtle so bright
  With an emerald hue,
And the pale aronatus
  With eyes of bright blue. 

I'll sing and I'll dance,
  My laugh shall be gay;
I'll cease this wild weeping --
  Drive sorrow away,
 Tho' my heart is now breaking,
  He never shall know
That _his_ name made me tremble
  And my pale cheeks to glow. 

I'll think of him never --
  I'll be wildly gay,
I'll charm ev'ry heart,
  And the crowd I will sway,
 I'll live yet to see him,
  Regret the dark hour
When he won, then neglected,
  The frail wildwood flower. 

He told me he loved me,
  And promis'd to love,
Trough ill and misfortune,
  All others above,
 Another has won him;
  Ah, misery to tell;
He left me in silence --
  no word of farewell. 

He taught me to love him,
  He call'd me his flower
That blossom'd for him
  All the brighter each hour;
 But I woke from my dreaming,
  My idol was clay;
My visions of love
  Have _all_ faded away. 

Note the differences between the song lyrics and the original poem?

After watching the movie “Walk the Line” about the Johnny and June Cash affair, I started to get curious about some of the history and poetry behind their music. It turns out that NPR did little story on Wildwood Flower as part of their “100 most important American songs in the 20th century”. Unfortunately the audio for the program doesn’t seem to work anymore, and based on the text introduction it seems they acknowledge that not much is known about the origins of the poem.

With a little bit more searching I found a reference to another poem by Maud Irving called “Mildred” in the Volume LXI, July-December 1860 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book. Louis Godey’s publication (edited by Sarah Josepha Hale) was an American institution before the Civil War. Filled with poetry (from authors such as Edgar Allen Poe) it had a circulation of 150,000 and over a million readers. Unfortunately the war undermined Godey’s market, in spite of his attempts to remain neutral and keep up with the latest poetry/verse at the time. I wonder if anyone has captured any more information about Irving and his writing? According to Vicki Betts, a Librarian, “the Robert R. Muntz Library at the University of Texas at Tyler holds microfilm for Godey’s Lady’s Book for 1840-1892”. Might be a fun field-trip, or maybe someone will help convert the actual texts to a searchable database…