Category Archives: History

Finland Goes on Cyber Offensive

Finland is about to “considerably enhance its cyber defence capabilities” with “counterpunch” and “cyber-weaponry”. Good marketing, but I’m pretty sure their supporting theory is not true

Lt. Gen. Arto Räty, permanent secretary at the Finnish MoD, added that “there can be no defensive capability without the ability to offer a counterpunch. The two things go hand in hand.”

Logically you can have defensive capability without a counterpunch. Regardless of whether I agree with their fighting style, however, I look forward to seeing yet another interpretation of Napoleon’s four innovations in offensive strategy, or Sun Tzu’s six principles.

I mean I wouldn’t be surprised if Finland started their presentation with the announcement that they have developed an enhanced cyber-sword to keep cyber-sheathed unless provoked…

Steam Car for Sale

An auction tomorrow will be for a four-seater steam “quadricycle” with a range of 20 miles on 40 gallons of water — the 1884 De Dion Bouton Et Trepardoux Dos-A-Dos Steam Runabout.

De Dion’s little quadricycle can claim to be the first family car, despite its arcane power source. What makes it different from road-going locomotives dating back to Cugnot’s 1770 tractor is its sophisticated boiler, which can be steamed in 45 minutes. It is also compact at only nine feet long and relatively light at 2,100 pounds. But, it has four wheels, seats four, and can be driven by one person — like a modern car.

Steam Car

One of the oldest still functioning vehicles, and a promising early design, but it is said to have been expensive even back in 1884.

By 1889 you could buy a tricycle for 2,800 francs ($540) and a quadricycle for 4,400 francs ($850).

Those prices were certainly out of the reach for the average enthusiast, when a French laborer might make five francs a day, and sales were confined to the very rich.

Hmmm, 5 francs a day x 365 days = 1825 francs. So a tricycle would be double an annual salary. An American laborer might make $120 a day x 365 days = $43,800. So a car today, in relative terms, is about half the price of one “confined to the very rich” in the 1890s? That’s like saying a $60,000 car today is confined to the very rich. Am I missing something?

Price was surely a factor but it seems the real reason for demise was the allure of gasoline.

By 1893 gasoline was the up-and-coming power source, and steam devotee Trepardoux left the firm and presumably went back to toys. A celebrated duelist and ladies’ man, De Dion was keen on animal welfare and made a few large steam trucks in an effort to free horses from hauling heavy carts, and then he and Bouton focused on gasoline automobiles. They patented their transmission in 1895 and dominated the early years of the 20th century, with De Dion engines powering some of the first great marques, like Renault, Pierce-Arrow and Delage.

FOX News Gets Stuffed on Wall Street

The FOX reporter seems unprepared and hesitant in the following video posted by the New York Observer (a paper founded by a former investment banker).

He does a horrible job asking questions and lobs glacially-slow softballs to a man from the Occupy Wall Street protest. No surprise then who dominates the topic, but how well the protestor dominates it is a surprise. It looks so lopsided it’s like the whole thing was staged; maybe they kidnapped a FOX reporter and forced him into an awkward moment.

FOX starts by asking if protests in America are just a copy-cat movement, part of an international conspiracy

Your colleague, she’d seen the protests in Greece and Europe and elsewhere. Did you guys take your cue from that? Are you hoping to cite certainly what was a lot of the tension, if not police activity. I know over the weekend there were over 100 arrests and you guys got things fired up. Are you taking your cues from the international movement and how do you want to see this? If you could have it in a perfect way, how would it be?

And then the protestor retorts with a cruise missle of logic that obliterates the reporter’s question on every angle

its really difficult to answer questions leading to those conclusions. I’d say that we didn’t take our cue leading off of anybody really. It became a more spontaneous movement. As far as seeing this end, I wouldn’t like to see this end. I would like to see the conversation continue. This is what we should have been talking about in 2008 when the economy collapsed. We basically patched a hole on the tire and said let the car keep rolling. Unfortunately it’s fun to talk to the propaganda machine and the media especially conservative media networks such as yourself, because we find that we cant get conversations for the department of Justice’s ongoing investigation of News Corporation, for which you are an employee. But we can certainly ask questions like you know, why are the poor engaging in class warfare? After 30 years of having our living standards decrease while the wealthiest 1% have had it better than ever, I think it’s time for some maybe, I don’t know, participation in our democracy that isn’t funded by news cameras and gentlemen such as yourself.

It would appear that FOX is no longer in the hen house.

Note: also interesting to see someone protesting Wall Street in a forage cap. Maybe it is a sign of interest returning to the People’s Party and the great bank bail-out of 1893.

Panic in 1893

Similar to the Panic of 1873, this panic was marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding and shaky railroad financing which set off a series of bank failures. Compounding market overbuilding and the railroad bubble, was a run on the gold supply (relative to silver), because of the long-established American policy of bimetallism, which used both silver and gold metals at a fixed 16:1 rate for pegging the value of the US Dollar.

Has someone yet adapted the Wizard of Oz secret story to the modern context? What would we have today instead of Dorothy’s silver shoes (silver standard) and the Wizard’s yellow brick (gold standard) road?

Documentation of the Red Terror

Official records of the Derg in Ethiopia now are being archived at the Ethiopian Red Terror Documentation and Research Center (ERTDRC) by the University of North Dakota (UND) Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies (CHRGS).

The BBC explains the significance of the archive.

Ethiopia’s obsessive bureaucracy meant that everything was documented. Every arrest, every execution, every act of torture was authorised, signed for and rubber-stamped – and every piece of paper was filed away and kept.

At the time it meant that the officials “covered their backs”.

If any of their acts was queried, they could prove someone else had authorised them to do it.

But in the last days of the military regime, when it was threatened by rebels advancing on the capital, no-one seems to have made any attempt to destroy these incriminating papers.

Parental Computing

I love reading the Atlantic. I have a vivid memory of it from 1987 when I was glued to Robert Kaplan‘s in-depth report on the seeds of the Eritrean fight for independence from Ethiopia (I think it was called Surrender or Starve: the Wars Behind the Famine). His words were a major factor in my decision to focus undergraduate and graduate work on the security of the Horn of Africa. Here’s an excerpt from his 1988 report called The African Killing Fields, published in the Washington Monthly

…disturbing was the ambivalence of President Reagan on this important issue. What communists were doing in Ethiopia was far more horrible than what communists were doing in Angola or Nicaragua. But while other administration officials frequently criticized the regime in the strongest possible terms, President Reagan himself was practically silent.

A communist regime brutally uprooted its own citizens against their will, forcibly separating hundreds of thousands from their families and killing tens of thousands through deliberate mistreatment. But the impact of this cataclysm on the media, a conservative White House, and the American public was minimal.

Rather than a catastrophe, the famine was a godsend for this regime.

Castro and Mengistu
An AFP photo of Fidel Castro and Mengistu Haile Mariam, from the BBC

It still amazes me to this day how few people realize that it was an army of 300,000 active troops on the high plains backed by Soviet and Cuban advisors and technology that failed to defeat the EPRDF rebels (associated with the EPLF, TPLF, EPDM and OPDO). Even fewer realize almost half the EPLF troops (in a conservative, patriarchal Islamic area) were women.

Now when the US military, current advisors to the Ethiopian Army, watch venerable Soviet T-55 tanks roll into Somalia it makes me curious all again about the role of authority in the region. Anyway, the Atlantic reporters have delivered some fantastic analysis and been a great source of inspiration.

With that in mind I found a recent technology post by a senior editor amusing but sorely lacking in analysis. He titled it “The Cloud’s My-Mom-Cleaned-My-Room Problem

…the freedom of usage that defined personal computing does not extend to the world of parental computing. This isn’t a bug in the way that cloud services work. It is a feature. What we lose in freedom we gain in convenience. Maybe the tradeoff is worth it. Or maybe it’s something that just happened to us, which we’ll regret when we realize the privacy, security, and autonomy we’ve given up to sync our documents and correspondence across computers.

I don’t see the same conclusion at all.

The author settles with one extremely narrow, perhaps even rare, ideal of parental authority and stretches it into a simile for cloud computing. Authority is an element of any relationship; but what is the probability that all cloud providers will choose to be like a parent who cleans your room? The author fails to assert why this is the only outcome or definition of parental computing.

This is not to say parental computing is a bad simile as far as authority goes (it’s bad for other reasons), but simply to state the obvious that parental styles are diverse — not all parents are authoritarian or even authoritative. It seems entirely possible for cloud computing to be based on a permissive parent computing or uninvolved parent computing model. The freedom of personal computing therefore easily could extend into a world we would call parental computing.