Archive for February, 2006

Suggestion for Vancouver

February 26th, 2006 — Wordman

After watching the bobsled (with its huge bullet-shaped craft), the luge (and its sled) and the skeleton (and it’s stripped down toboggan), I have a suggestion for a new event for the Vancouver games in 2010. Rather than use these wussy sleds, competitors would wear suits with ice skate blades sewn vertically into the upper chest, stomach and thighs. They would run at full speed down the starting track of a skeleton course, then launch themselves onto their belly and fly head first down the ice, running on the blades sewn into the suits.

Oh, also, in the opening and closing ceremonies, I suggest that Vancouver not inexplicably feature American pop tunes more than three decades old.

Holding out for a hero

February 19th, 2006 — Wordman

After reading more of John Robb’s ideas comparing terrorist operations to the open source programming ethic, I’m beginning to think that the relation is a bit more than metaphorical. It’s clear that part of this “open source warfare” are groups of Muslim vandals who have taken to defacing sites. In spite of warnings that this might lead to denial of service attacks and more serious hacking threats, none have been corroborated yet (well, at least not by anyone credible). It’s all to easy to believe they are coming though. Recently Robb suggested that infrastructure-based attacks by small “open source” guerillas may be coming soon and “much of the instruction and research passed to these groups will be done through the Internet.” I’d take this one step further and say that some of the attacks may come through the internet as well. Meanwhile, it’s becoming more evident that threats from organizations that are neither companies nor nations are growing (or have grown) beyond the ability of national armies to defeat.

All of this, though, makes me wonder: where are the white hats? Surely the Muslim world doesn’t have a monopoly on groups of hackers willing to engage in a guerilla war for a cause they believe in, without any central organizing authority. And I’m not just talking about turning Hamas into smut peddlers. Combating these Islamist hackers requires a group willing to subject them to something they should fear: scrutiny. I’m thinking of, at least, some kind of web sites that would post things like “site X was hacked by these people — here’s what we know”. Naturally, such sites would get attacked, but that would actually be useful. There would also need to be some sort of trust system to control who could post, but the net is pretty good at figuring out that sort of stuff. More crucial would be participation of the sites being attacked. Some would be willing to share logs, some would be trickier. Most important would be the reaction of the military and intelligence agencies. I’d like to think they’d welcome the help, but chances are they’d try to shut it down. An open source counterinsurgency does run the risk of accidentally ruining “official” covert action of which it has no awareness, but I suspect that’d be a risk worth taking.

Undermining the emergent mind

February 14th, 2006 — Wordman

Adam turned me on to John Robb’s article about emergent intelligence and the Iraqi insurgency. I posted a comment about it on Robb’s blog, but thought I’d reproduce it here as well.

If the five factors Robb mentions really are requirements, then the implication is that the elimination of any of them causes the collapse of the “intelligence” (whatever that means). This suggests a way to fight things like the insurgency in Iraq: destroy or prevent one or more of these factors. Taken in reverse order, this might be done as follows:

Openness to interaction is difficult to attack, because it is basically a personality trait, but it isn’t impossible. One way is to encourage “closed” men into authority by, say, eliminating rivals, providing intelligence or some other means. Another is to foster distrust between leaders. Any of these strategies, though, is fairly risky.

Pattern matching from stigmergic communication is a bit easier, because some of these environmental patterns can be manipulated or forged. Still, most of them can’t. Further, while it may be possible to anticipate the results of a pattern match, doing any of this requires high level of understanding of the insurgency thought process, which I don’t think the coalition has.

Random interactions are nearly impossible to stop. This is one area where the coalition is actively fighting (by incarcerating suspects to limit their movement). Ironically, this probably helps random interactions more than hinders them, as those few who are inevitably falsely imprisoned are certain to interact with real insurgents in an environment that breeds hostility to the coalition.

Local focus is more attackable than most of the other requirements, because it allows local action in opposition as well. Still, a crackdown in one locality likely just moves the “local action” to a different locality, so the best you could hope for here is somehow manipulating the insurgency into a locality of your own choosing. Those who subscribe to the “better to fight them in Iraq than here” mentality might reasonably claim that this has already been done successfully.

Preventing the critical mass of participants seems to me to be the most sure way to defeat this insurgency. Unfortunately, present tactics for doing so (incarceration into public and secret prisons) seem completely wrong, as they motivate individuals to participate who may not have otherwise. Fighting this requirement would seem to take a much longer timescale, essentially replacing the bias of the Muslim world’s educational system with one more slanted to the West. This is a timescale on which America is extremely bad at fighting, as its political system churns much faster.

Ambassadors

February 12th, 2006 — Wordman

Like a lot of people, seeing athletes (of any nation) who seem like they are good people, like “Il Pomodoro Volante” or Frode Estil, win or otherwise excel epitomizes what I like most about the Olympics. What I like even more, however, is seeing asshole American athletes, whose loudmouthed arrogance embarrasses themselves and (more importantly) my country, fail.

Currently topping this latter list is Bode Miller, who I’m hoping wins no medals at all. [Update: Boo-ya.] I realize some respond favorably to his “individualist streak”. I would, too, if I didn’t think it was phony. In an interview on NBC, he gave the impression that he is sick of relentless media coverage of him and would rather be left alone, but that if they were going to cover him, he would use the exposure to push a cause. He pushes this cause not only through the press, but with really bad commercials, probably paid for by sponsors. The reason I think his pose is disingenuous is that he could have named this web site anything at all, but chose to name it after himself. That doesn’t sound much like someone trying to avoid publicity. A better name might, for example, have been one that had something to do with whatever cause he is pushing. Then, at least, I’d know what this cause is. I don’t though, because when I visit his site, I get told:

…joining Bode Miller and experiencing [this] website requires that you install the Flash 8 Player.

I don’t have as much problem with Flash as some people I know, but my experience is that sites that require it, providing no alternative for those who don’t have it, usually favor style over substance. While Mr. Miller may have enough substance (at least, if you consider athletic ability substantive) to back up his arrogance for this Olympics, when he’s no longer able to go real fast down a mountain on two pieces of fiberglass, I’m guessing he won’t find many willing to join him. I predict an early, lonely, and probably alcoholic, death. Of course, by then, some other obnoxious king of the slopes will probably have replaced him in giving the rest of the world one more reason to hate America.