Left/right is not as important today as authority/democracy

How Far Conservatism Has Changed
[Via Contrary Brin]

All right, it is an important U.S. political season.  As a registered Republican and a frequent speaker at libertarian gatherings, I remain hopeful that this will be the year that several million temperamentally conservative-but-calmly-rational Americans will wake up to the way their movement and the GOP have been hijacked. And that only a shattering drubbing at the polls will send the American right back to the drawing boards — learning to do politics again. Including negotiation about real problems. 

Oh, but it will be so hard! 
The oligarchs who have done the hijacking have ordered up so many narratives, from “birther” paranoia to climate denialism, from preaching “oligarchy is gooood for you” to utter lies about U.S. history. I will explicate the best and most hilariously most damning example below — the George Soros Effect.  
thats-not-austinBut first — In That’s Not What They Meant!: Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America’s Right WingProfessor Michael Austin examines dozens of books, articles, speeches, and radio broadcasts by such figures as Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Larry Schweikart, and David Barton to expose the deep historical flaws in their use of America’s founding history. In contrast to their misleading method of citing proof texts to serve a narrow agenda, Austin allows the Founding Fathers to speak for themselves, situating all quotations in the proper historical context. 
What emerges is a true historical picture of men who often disagreed with one another on such crucial issues as federal power, judicial review, and the separation of church and state. As Austin — whom I met last week, at Newman University, in Kansas — shows, the real legacy of the Founding Fathers to us is a political process: a system of disagreement, debate, and compromise that has kept democracy vibrant in America for more than two hundred years, but that regularly comes under attack. How extreme has been the veer off any path of sane conservatism?  


I feel that the real battle is not between left/right economic divides but between hierarchical authoritarian/distributed democracy. The GOP may have a preponderance of the former but there are quite a lot in the leadership of the Dems. We are out of balance, but luckily have very strong tools now to leverage distributed approaches to regain our footing.

The Founding Fathers had to deal with exactly the same imbalances. We saw liberals and conservatives then come together to develop an entirely new set of tools to deal with the imbalance.

I am confident we will again. 

The question is how long it will take to regain the balance, how much it will be delayed by the authoritarians and how many millions die in the meantime

Unbreakable Apple encryption – 80 milliseconds may be key

System Lock 

 Why can’t Apple decrypt your iPhone?
[Via A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering]

Last week I wrote about Apple’s new default encryption policy for iOS 8. Since that piece was intended for general audiences I mostly avoided technical detail. But since some folks (and apparently the Washington Post!) are still wondering about the nitty-gritty details of Apple’s design, I thought it might be helpful to sum up what we know and noodle about what we don’t.


Nice explanation of how Apple has secured the iPhone. No backdoors. Apple holds no keys. The phone takes your password, mixes it with a specific number for each phone (UID), and runs it through a slow derivation function to get the passkey used for all on phone encryption. What does the slow derivation function do?

The Apple Key Derivation function ‘tangles’ the password with the UID key by running both through PBKDF2-AES — with an iteration count tuned to require about 80ms on the device itself.** The result is the ‘passcode key’. That key is then used as an anchor to secure much of the data on the phone.

Apple used a dedicated line on the chip to put the key into the secure enclave. Software can put it in when you change a password but cannot extract it out. The only thing that can be done is to brute force the password by trying every single combination.

Now, normally, the authorities can use a class F supercomputer, capable of trying a billion passwords a second. This means that even if your password mixed lower case, upper case and special symbols and was 8 characters in length – 96 possible characters and a whopping 7.2 quadrillion possible combinations – the class F could find it in less than 3 months.

The authorities know that any phone they want to crack can be with a brute force approach. Well, that used to be true.

See that 80 ms requirement. Since the only thing to do is brute force the password, that 80 ms becomes important, as I wrote before. It slows down even the Class F. Instead of a billion tries a second, it can only do 12.5. 

This means that even an 8 digit passcode using only numbers would now take 3 months. Instead of instantly.

Before, they could just ask Apple to crack it for them. Because it held a backdoor key. But now Apple no longer can do that.

It means that pretty much no one can get the data off your phone, especially if you use even a simple password with 6-8 characters.

And Apple lets you use a passcode up to 37 characters long.

The only way to get an iPhone cracked is to get a warrant requiring the owner to open it. No more being able to use a third party to do it for the authorities.

So we are back to what used to be the status quo.

Getting to the stars without a warp drive or a magic wormhole

Spaceship Earth in the Fog

Laser Ion propelled interstellar generation ship using this century technology
[Via Next Big Future]

Dana Andrews looks at a minimum transit speed of 2 percent of the speed of light (fifty years per light year) for an interstellar generation ship. This makes for transit times in the neighborhood of hundreds of years, depending on destination. A key requirement is the ability to decelerate and rendezvous with the destination planet using a magnetic sail (magsail) that can be built using high-temperature superconductors. Andrews also assumes 20-30 years of research and development before construction actually begins.

He assumes that a space-based infrastructure sufficient to begin active asteroid mining will be in place.
He cites a thirty-five year timeframe for getting these needed systems operational.
Some of the R&D could presumably be underway even as this infrastructure is being built, but we also have to take into account what we know about the destination.

Credit Dana Andrews and H/T Centauri Dreams


An interesting exercise and a nice thought-experiment.Some of the engineering aspects of this are much better configured than the biological ones.

We still have no real clue on creating a closed loop biome that does not collapse, although I am sure we will.

The intriguing thing is using an asteroid to help get the ship up to speed. Using 100TWatt lasers. A speed of 2% of the speed of light – 50 years per light year travel.

But the really amazing idea is decelerating when close to the star. Using a special sail (over 6000 km in diameter) the ship will take over 70 years to slow down.

An entire lifetime.

There are lots of possible variants. And a lot of risks. But it is becoming more feasible.

At least to think about.

It appears that legal citations are copyrighted, even though mandated by our legal system

Harvard Law School 

Harvard Law Review Claims Copyright Over Legal Citations; Now Challenged By Public Domain Effort
[Via Techdirt]

If you’re not a copyright geek, you might not be aware of the copyright saga revolving around the Harvard “Bluebook.” The Bluebook is basically the standard for legal citations in the US. It’s technically owned by an organization that is effectively made up of four top law schools. For a variety of reasons, the idea that citations can be covered by copyright is troubling to a lot of folks, but the Harvard Law Review, in particular, has stood by the copyright in The Bluebook (for which it makes a pretty penny each year). Last year, there was a fight over this, best summed up succinctly by Carl Malamud in this short BoingBoing post:

For five years, Professor Frank Bennett, a distinguished legal scholar at Nagoya University School of Law, has been trying to add Bluebook Support to Zotero, the open source citation tool used all over the world.

Professor Bennett asked Harvard Law Review for permission. They said no. He asked again. They said no again. He secured Larry Lessig as his lawyer. They said no to Lessig. I pitched in and got a bunch of angry letters from the most expensive law firm in Boston. Even a flaming headline in Boing Boing wasn’t enough to get the Harvard Law Review off their $2 million/year revenue stream to permit a little bit of innovation.

Frank Bennett finally said the hell with it after asking nicely for 5 years, and has now released Bluebook Zotero. It’s shameful that Bluebook, Inc. couldn’t deal with this situation in a better way.

If you want to dig in, with even more details, you can look here, here or here, with that last one being the original letter that Malamud sent to Harvard, which we’ve also embedded below.


Yes, did you know that actual citations are copyrighted? Gotta love lawyers.

Except that a distributed approach to route around this barrier uncovered something interesting – the 10th edition of these citations, which are mandated by the government to be used, is in the public domain. While published in the late 50s, it means that much of the current edition is based on public domain material, which weakens its copyright.

These istributed democrats are creating an alternative to the legal Bluebook called Baby Blue. This is how they describe the ramifications for the Harvard Law Review:

In short, The Bluebook will soon face a public domain competitor. And when Baby Blue comes to market, The Harvard Law Review Association is likely to face questions regarding why the public – including pro se and indigent litigants – are obliged to pay for access to a resource that is indispensable to all those who seek justice from our courts. The Harvard Law Review Association is likely also to face questions regarding the financial transparency of the current structure.


DEA creating fake social media pages – another reason to lockdown your phone



Drug agency sued over its fake Facebook account
[Via AP]

The Drug Enforcement Administration set up a fake Facebook account using photographs and other personal information it took from the cellphone of a New York woman arrested in a cocaine case in hopes of tricking her friends and associates into revealing incriminating drug secrets.

The Justice Department initially defended the practice in court filings but now says it is reviewing whether the Facebook guise went too far.

Sondra Arquiett’s Facebook account looked as real as any other. It included photos of her posing on the hood of a sleek BMW and a close-up with her young son and niece. She even appeared to write that she missed her boyfriend, who was identified by his nickname.


Yep, they simply created a fake Facebook page using photos from a confiscated phone:

In a court filing in August, the Justice Department contended that while Arquiett didn’t directly authorize Sinnigen to create the fake account, she “implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in … ongoing criminal investigations.”

The photos showed her in sexy, provocative positions as well as including family members  who appear to be underage.So if you ever give the DEA access to your phone, they can use whatever information they find. For anything if they call it an ongoing criminal investigation.

Glad I have an iPhone 6. That way they will have to get a warrant which should spell out exactly what they can and cannot do.

Ebola not very contagious and hard to get


No, Seriously, How Contagious Is Ebola? : Shots – Health News : NPR
[Via Health News : NPR]

Holy moly! There’s a case of Ebola in the U.S.!

That first reaction was understandable. There’s no question the disease is scary. The World Health Organization now estimates that the virus has killed about 70 percent of people infected in West Africa.

The Ebola case in Dallas is the first one diagnosed outside Africa, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. And the health care system in Texas didn’t quarantine the man right away. He was sick with Ebola — and contagious — for four days before he was admitted to the hospital.


This is an important number to get out. It’s R0 is 2.  It represents the basic reproduction number. Someone with Ebola infects 2 others.

This is quite low (measles has an R0 of about 18) and can be dealt with using public health protocols.

It is not easy to get Ebola. Simple isolation can stop an epidemic. Only 50% of the people would need vaccines for herd immunity to work. We need >94% immunized to protect against pertussis or measles.

Vaccines are on the way. Add in useful therapies like anti-virals and there should be little to worry about. 

We need to listen to Elon Musk

Focusing the 100-millimeter Mastcam [detail] 

Elon on the Future of Humanity
[Via Rands in Repose]

Via Aeon:

‘If you look at our current technology level, something strange has to happen to civilisations, and I mean strange in a bad way,’ he said. ‘And it could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilisations.’



 I agree with him. Humanity will not survive if we remain on Earth. If we move off of it, and inhabit the Solar System, we actually could not only save huanity.

We could save all life  on Earth.


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