Disease clusters, radiation and cell towers

Many years ago I worked in a research building that was located above a giant plasma generator. Everyone who had worked there for more than five years and who sat fairly near the thing (the floor above, the office next door) were said to be suffering from cancer or other illness. One woman passed away suddenly in her 50s. The generator drew so much energy that on hot days the central organization would ask the operator to turn it off so they could run the air conditioners. Who knows how much the thing emitted. Don’t think it was ever measured. Some employees were smokers, most did not exercize regularly, and so forth, but a correllation seemed too strong to be coincidence.

There aren’t many plasma generators around but what if the same effects can be documented in people who work or live near cell-towers? And what if those people happen to be important enough that a sudden deterioration of their health could cause serious financial impact to a big organization? The latest news from Australia is rather shocking:

Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal said there was no proof of a connection but “if you get clusters of disease it’s sensible to investigate.”

Dr John Gall, from private health company Southern Medical Services, which has been called in to assess the sick, said last night three of those affected had tumours showing symptoms consistent with radiation.

But he said there was no causal link with the building based on preliminary observations.

A spokesman for state Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said WorkCover would investigate the matter and the Department of Human Services would provide any expertise needed.

RMIT chief operating officer Steve Somogyi said testing was carried out on the building after the first two of the seven tumours were reported in 1999 and 2001. It found radiation and air quality levels within recommended guidelines.

Hmmm, who set those guidelines again and based on what evidence? Funny how experts can sometimes use a lack of data as proof of something that doesn’t exist, rather than proof of uncertainty. In network security, it can often be worse to have false negatives than false positives. And if you ever run a honeypot system you have to be careful to never assume that a lack of bears in the honeypot (it sounds better than attackers who like honey, if you know what i mean) proves that there is not threat of bears, let alone a bear already sleeping in your bed. And from that perspective, maybe it wasn’t radiation from the towers, but something in the food, furniture or decorations…

Google succumbs

I think the Google Co-op concept is a novel idea. It allows individuals to rank information on the web “by creating ‘subscribed links’ for your services and labeling webpages around the topics you know best”. Wait, did I just read that correctly? Has something failed at Google? What happened to their pigeon algorithm revolution? Wasn’t the original concept of their search technology based upon figuring out a clever way to interpret page ranking through links? (Incidentally, I didn’t see a way to label webpages as safe/trusted, which would be the most interesting feature from a security perspective and also useful in the traditional sense of PGP.)

I must be missing something, because the announcement seems to suggest to me that so many attackers have been able to riddle the Google page-ranking system with holes, that the search giant has maxed-out their pigeon power and is essentially trying to ask everyone to help by sticking their own thumb into the cracks…

Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the power of the internet is in the people who have localized and specialized knowledge. But this is so completely counter to the origins of this “our algorithm is smarter than you are” company, one has to wonder if Google will next start trying to actually work within (or to help build) social fabric/structure rather than just pop out intellectually challenging tools. A better plow is great, since people can make better use of available land, but what’s your role when the plows turn into swords? Do you keep making swords and fan the discord among people fighting for resources or do you look for a way to establish localized rights and try to preserve the real value of plows?

More insight available courtesy of the Reg:

The problem is, Google has created a commons that is designed to be exploited beyond its capacity. Each user of a commons has an incentive to defect from the common good, to seek individual advantage. But in the Google commons, SEOs have an incentive to DESTROY the common good, to try to prevent anyone else from having any individual advantage. How the hell do you create a sustainable business model when everyone is intent on fucking up yours?

Many people have waxed lyrical about how Google was “God’s Brain” and contained some sort of magical Gestalt of all of mankind’s knowledge. But now it’s like an autistic brain that can’t say anything except advertising jingles.

— Charles Eicher

The Reg also had another take on the problem here:

creating junk web pages is so cheap and easy to do, Google is engaged in an arms race with search engine optimizers. Each innovation designed to bring clarity to the web, such as tagging, is rapidly exploited by spammers or site owners wishing to harvest some classified advertising revenue.

Recently, we featured a software tool that can create 100 Blogger weblogs in 24 minutes, called Blog Mass Installer. A subterranean industry of sites providing “private label articles,” or PLAs exists to flesh out “content” for these freshly minted sites. And as a result, legitimate sites are often caught in the cross fire.


by Daniel Halpern

We were desperate. No, we were beyond desperation.
We were beside ourselves. At wit’s end.
We said we could slip outside, that was it.
Get in the car and just keep on driving. Never look back.
No second thoughts. No chance of posing as salt.

But they’d find us, you said. They’d bring us back
and it would begin again. We could start a new life.
We could begin again, trying the something new.
The road ahead again untrod, winding beyond the next curve
with speed and assurance. Did I say we were desperate?

The lightning took over and revealed the night.
The landscape looked altered–rocks and trees
no longer where they had been hours before.
We hadn’t made a move, but we were desperate.
Desperate still–oh, desperate beyond description.

But, they’d find us, you said. They’d bring us back.
We said we could slip outside, that was it.
Never look back. No second thoughts.
We were desperate. At wit’s end. Beside ourselves.
The landscape looked altered, beyond description.

We could begin again. Something new,
The landscape looked altered. Never look back.
Did I say desperate to try something new?
A new life? The road ahead untrod, winding beyond.
We hadn’t made a move–just kept on driving.

Ralph, thanks for the poem. I was great working with you. Good luck in retirement! I also like the Dylan song, Restless Farewell, that you recommended:

Oh all the money that in my whole life I did spend,
Be it mine right or wrongfully,
I let it slip gladly past the hands of my friends
To tie up the time most forcefully.
But the bottles are done,
We’ve killed each one
And the table’s full and overflowed.
And the corner sign
Says it’s closing time,
So I’ll bid farewell and be down the road.

Oh ev’ry girl that ever I’ve touched,
I did not do it harmfully.
And ev’ry girl that ever I’ve hurt,
I did not do it knowin’ly.
But to remain as friends and make amends
You need the time and stay behind.
And since my feet are now fast
And point away from the past,
I’ll bid farewell and be down the line.

Oh ev’ry foe that ever I faced,
The cause was there before we came.
And ev’ry cause that ever I fought,
I fought it full without regret or shame.
But the dark does die
As the curtain is drawn and somebody’s eyes
Must meet the dawn.
And if I see the day
I’d only have to stay,
So I’ll bid farewell in the night and be gone.

Oh, ev’ry thought that’s strung a knot in my mind,
I might go insane if it couldn’t be sprung.
But it’s not to stand naked under unknowin’ eyes,
It’s for myself and my friends my stories are sung.
But the time ain’t tall,
Yet on time you depend and no word is possessed
By no special friend.
And though the line is cut,
It ain’t quite the end,
I’ll just bid farewell till we meet again.

Oh a false clock tries to tick out my time
To disgrace, distract, and bother me.
And the dirt of gossip blows into my face,
And the dust of rumors covers me.
But if the arrow is straight
And the point is slick,
It can pierce through dust no matter how thick.
So I’ll make my stand
And remain as I am
And bid farewell and not give a damn.

Minimum wage and trojan-horses

I keep reading about the minimum wage debate in California, but I thought the OC Weekly staff clarified things nicely:

Fortunately, someone is looking out for California’s minimum wage workers: Thomas Hiltachk has filed a ballot initiative with the Attorney General that, if approved by voters, would raise the state’s minimum wage by a dollar an hour. Unfortunately, Hiltachk is a Republican who works as legal counsel to Governor Schwarzenegger, so therefore one must assume that such largesse comes with a nasty surprise attached. It does. In exchange for giving the worst paid workers an extra buck an hour, the charmingly named “Fair Pay Workplace Flexibility Act of 2006″ would abolish the 8 hour workday for all the state’s workers. Nice, huh? Especially considering that this week marks the 118th anniversary of the establishment of the 8 hour workday in California. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Republican party: Building a Bridge to 1887.

So, if you consider the law to be code, and Mr. Hiltachk to be a programmer…oh, what a virus he could deliver. Is “trojan-horse law” an official phrase yet?

Cost of neighborhood risks

Apparently there are a lot of people cited for running stop-signs in certain areas of the US. This data point is just one factor of many used by insurance companies to determine the rates you must pay for coverage. Might be interesting to correlate the frequency of bad drivers around you, the damage caused, the number actually cited, and the cost others end up paying for their behavior.

You probably know you are charged a different rate depending on where you live. But have you looked into the differences relative to how people drive in your area, or number of citations?

Granick on bugspotting

News about the legal issues, courtesy of Wired.

The federal statute and copycat state laws prohibit accessing computers or a computer system without authorization, or in excess of authorization, and thereby obtaining information or causing damage.

What does it mean to access a networked computer? Any communication with that computer — even if it’s simply one system asking another “are you there?” — transmits data to the other machine. The cases say that e-mail, web surfing and port scanning all access computers. One court has even held that when I send an e-mail, not only am I accessing your e-mail server and your computer, but I’m also “accessing” every computer in between that helps transmit my message.

Get a temp number for your mobile

Shadow/substitution solutions are becoming all the rage as people look for ways to create plausable deniability both from an attack and defense perspective. That’s just a fancy way of saying that more and more people want to be able to disappear.

Safe Talk is a UK company that suggest you use their service in order to

give out a temporary phone number to people you first meet so they can call you – until you know if they’re fit or fit to drop!

If people haven’t started adopting transaction-based IDs for their credit cards (offered by issuers for years now) how likely are they to start using them on their mobile? Maybe the motivation is higher on mobiles because the relationship is more likely to sour in ways that require a disappearing act? Fake name, fake number, imagine the possibilities. Will this be a convenient add-on service for social network sites, or the next big thing for spammers and phishers to abuse? I mean if it is successful as a (legitimate) service, and able to handle the looming liability/trust issues, I wonder how long it will be before this is a standard service from the major carriers.

Cheney indicts self

Can you say, double-standard or questionable ethics?

But 9/11 changed everything in the sense that it forced us to think anew about our enemies, about who our enemies were, about the kind of threat we faced as a nation, about what kind of strategy we needed to pursue to be able to safeguard our nation from those attacks. The President made a very basic, fundamental decision that very first night after the attacks. And that was that henceforth, we would hold accountable those — not only the terrorists, but also those who supported terror. If a state or a government provided safe harbor or sanctuary, or financing, or training or weapons to a terrorist organization, they would be deemed just as guilty of the terrorist act as the terrorists themselves.

Mr. Cheney, the threats you refer to were not new to you, but your change in thinking about the enemies of the US should have happened prior to 9/11. Why? Because that’s what the bipartisan commission said in early 2001, echoed by Clarke as well as the outgoing staff from the prior Administration. Remember when you and Bush ignored those? Ooops, so much for leadership. I guess you guys like to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you. Remind us again why your wife resigned from the Hart-Rudman commission? She refused to think anew about the “kind of threat” and didn’t like being disagreed with? Sad that it took such a huge disaster to open your eyes and allow you to agree with what honest and good people had been telling you; even more sad that your choice of words in the public forum do more harm to your nation than good. We expect this kind of incompetence from Rumsfeld, but you too now?

Just for reference, here is another voice of leadership to compare yourself with:

The president of the United States hears a hundred voices telling him that he is the greatest man in the world. He must listen carefully indeed to hear the one voice that tells him he is not.
Harry S Truman

Now, if you want to talk about accountability…

Keep Living

Here’s a true story of poetry in action.

Heather Wagner, a 26-year old mother of three in Texas, had her husband deployed to South Korea in 2005. She describes on her website how she felt when she watched a news broadcast soon after her own goodbyes where the “camera kept focusing in on all the crying women”:

“Well sure they are crying now,” said Heather, “They are saying goodbye. But if the cameras followed these women home they would see how they pick themselves up and take care of business”. She wanted James to know that he didn’t have to feel guilty about leaving to do his job. ” I understand that his absence is both necessary and important and I honestly believe that the support a servicemen gets at home directly affects his ability to do his job and support the mission. When I wrote Keep Living, I was trying to tell my husband that I was behind him 100 percent and ready to take care of things here while he’s gone. I was also trying to paint a word picture for others who see the news broadcast with the crying women and don’t realize how strong the military spouse really is. This doesn’t mean that we have to be thrilled about them leaving, it means that we accept it and stay determined to keep living and serving while they are gone.”

Mrs. Wagner then brushed off her performance skills, apparently dormant since 1999 when she married and started a family. She wrote and sang “Keep Living”, and then made copies on her own computer and gave them away. Word quickly spread to the point where she started selling the music on her website and donating a portion of the proceeds to OperationHomefront. Here are the lyrics:

They always seem to show a woman standing at a gate clinging to her children as her husband walks away. When duty calls he’ll do what he’s gotta do. and even though I don’t get paid, I serve my country too.

Because I know he’s where he needs to be. I know he always thinks of me. and yeah, I know the stars he sees are the stars I see each night. Until the day he makes it home I’ll take care of things on my own. When he’s
here he’ll be glad to see that we just kept living .

With pride and dedication I take the wheel when I’m on my own. By the time I reach the driveway those first
tears need to be gone. I get the lunches packed, pay bills, and cut the lawn, and then I toss and turn and tell
myself get some sleep before the break of dawn.

Because I know he’s where he needs to be. I know he always thinks of me. and yeah, I know the stars he sees
are the stars I see each night. Until the day he makes it home I’ll take care of things on my own. When he’s
here he’ll be glad to see that we just kept living .

I don’t deny the river that I’ve cried or the pleading that goes on in my prayers each night

I know you’re where you need to be. I know you always think of me. Yeah I know the stars you see , are the
stars I see each night. But baby till you make it home know that I’m okay and not alone. I’m as strong as I
will ever be, and we’ll just keep living.

I’m as proud of you as I can be. Just keep living.

It’s awesome to see the power of a poem and the influence a single woman can have in so many people’s lives. Interesting that she sings about how to keep living and be strong, while a portion of the profits are sent to a private non-profit for military families. She is surely doing a lot of good for people in need. I can’t help but wonder, however, why the military itself is so unable to care for its soldiers that care and assistance has to come from outside the organization. Is this due to symptoms of system-wide failure or just gaps in the safety net?

Will encrypt text for food

Mark Van Dine has a cool WordPress site with some funny graphics. I thought this was was particularly catchy. See if you can solve the message. Here’s a hint, if you can find the key, the answer will be clear.

Hmmm...this is a tough one.

Wonder if anyone is writing crypto-poetry? (No, I don’t mean the infamous “Banned Code Lives in Poetry and Song” since that is code turned into poetry rather than the other way around)

Oh, and for a really good laugh, check out his thoughts on his father’s new book called “If Instead of Apes We Had Come from Grapes, We Wouldn’t Just yet Be Wineâ€?. Here’s an excerpt from the book itself:

Things appear for reasons.
Reasons appear for things.

The ring announces there’s a bell,
so there’s a bell. And sure as hell,
if there is a bell… it rings

It’s a call to mate or to salivate
or to fold with a pair of kings.
To the ding-ding jingling clang or gong,
the trains pull out and the planes take wing,
the boxers box and the singers sing
and everyone sings along:
jingles for soap and for soda pop,
so the shippers ship and the shoppers shop.
It’s all arranged at the stock exchange,
and you can’t sit still for long.

2. Nature & Nurture

If cradle training taught you well,
you learned which bell’s for you:
when you counted ribs or the bars on cribs,
noting nipples, inscribing bibs
with what was what and who was who,
learned on your fingers the proper things
your own bell tells when you hear it ring,
how you go to hell if you hear the bell
and you don’t know what to do.

But how, pray tell, do the ringers of bells
know when it’s time to ring?


Things appear for reasons.
Reasons appear for things.

Yeah, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. Music anyone?
(i.e. Rose Rouge by St. Germain)

the poetry of information security