Apr. 16th, 2014


Book giveaway, continued

Another three books!

Spirit Fox, by Mickey Zucker Reichert and Jennifer Wingert, hardcover. Fantasy novel, over-longish, with a complex backstory: nation-culture of people in which overbearing, sadistic priests rule and most people have animals spirit-bonded to them, one young woman finds herself shapeshifting into a fox. Meanwhile, another nation-culture with a (by and large) more enlightened religious culture is invading, mainly because that religion has one nasty trait: it considers bonds with mere animals to be a horrible heresy, and war against the first culture to be a holy war. A mildly interesting, slightly different take on the spirit animal/therianthrope tropes.

The Prince, by Machiavelli. Thin paperback book.

Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution, by Kirkpatrick Sale, hardcover.. Excellent history and analysis of the real-life Luddite movement, marred by a mostly stupid long-winded rant in the second half of the book.

Same rules as always: if you want any of these, comment here and we'll work something out -- or email me if you happen to have my email address.

Apr. 15th, 2014


Dunno if it's funny or not . . .

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States

WASHINGTON—Putting the nation on alert against what it has described as a “highly credible terrorist threat,” the FBI announced today that it has uncovered a plot by members of al-Qaeda to sit back and enjoy themselves while the United States collapses of its own accord.

Apr. 13th, 2014


More on the Heartbleed bug

xkcd explains for a non-techie audience how the Heartbleed bug works.

Certain people did a brilliant job publicizing this bug; it's hard to imagine a better name than "Heartbleed". (Since when did you see a vulnerability with its own logo?

 photo heartbleed_zps147a0de0.png

It may seem strange to speak of "marketing" a software bug, but it encourages people to take warnings seriously and change their passwords.

Dan Kaminsky explains to the tech community some less obvious lessons of Heartbleed. Bottom line: we need to figure out which software tech is really essential to our infrastructure, and find a better way of funding it. The OpenSSL Project code is famous for being hard to read, and there's really only a handful of people working on it. And it's so neglected that it has taken three years to discover this bug.
Tags: ,

Apr. 10th, 2014


But it should be, like, soooo easy to find that airplane, right? Must be a conspiracy, right?

Tags: ,

Apr. 9th, 2014


Urgent OMG security warning!

Okay, the books are headed to a local women-owned occult/New Age shop, since no one apparently wanted them. On to something more important.


Two days ago, the Heartbleed bug was announced. This is a bug in OpenSSL that was recently found, but which has existed since December 31, 2011. In other words, hackers have had more than two years to exploit any and every server that was using OpenSSL.

What this means, translated to non-geek, is: YOUR PASSWORDS MAY HAVE BEEN COMPROMISED. OpenSSL is very, very widely used to handle sensitive stuff on the Web, so if you've done banking, bought or sold anything via the Internet, or sent sensitive information through a website, someone malicious may have your password. (And may have had it for quite a while.)

As long as the websites you deal with are still using the old version of OpenSSL, they are still vulnerable, and any new passwords may just get compromised again. But the OpenSSL Foundation has put out a new version with the bug fixed, and most companies doing business via the Web are quickly installing it. A week or so is plenty of time for them to get it up and running. So, CHANGE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS -- in, say a week. I would not wait any longer!

That said . . . there hasn't been a Hackergeddon of compromises in the past two years. This, to me, argues that very, very few black-hat hackers -- if any -- knew of the bug.

By the way, for the really technologically clueless -- do NOT simply download OpenSSL and install it onto your computer. This will do precisely nothing, because the problem is on a remote server, not in your computer. Besides, right now, the OpenSSL website is being hammered as hundreds of thousands of frantic system administrators scramble to get the new version; I'd hate to see unknowing people add to the burden.

Ars Technica on the bug

If you really, really need extreme privacy and anonymity (say, you're in China or Turkey), and you use Tor, you may want to see this Tor Project post.
Tags: ,

Apr. 8th, 2014


Bunch of fun links

A Brief History of Dog Prejudice

Various breeds of dogs have been demonized since newspapers became more popular after the Civil War. First it was the Blood Hounds of Uncle Tom's Cabin that struck fear into the hearts of people throughout America. This dog was portrayed throughout the country as a savage, bloodthirsty, man-killing beast in vaudeville productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin towards the latter part of the 19th century. It didn't help that Bloodhounds had been used to hunt down runaway slaves and escaped criminals.

Reddit: Physicist explains why medical research results in so many false sensationalist claims that are later retracted, leading to our current state of "untrustworthy" medicine

I can actually explain for these misconceptions and where they come from. They are symptoms of a greater systematic problem in medical research, derived from the policies of the journals and the lack of coherence among fields.

Let me explain: Say you are interested to see if an electric field has any effect on protein folding in mammals. You run the experiment sufficiently for a given set of parameters and find that there's no apparent effect when you treat the data. Leading medical journals would not accept this publication because it supports the null hypothesis. Despite this work being a significant contribution to understanding, most journals will literally reject your publication because the null hypothesis is not rejected, making the funds, time and effort you put into the project a waste and totally meaningless to you.

And on a lighter note:

What would happen if you pitched a baseball at 90 percent of the speed of light? Best advice to anyone wishing to try this: don't. ;)
Tags: ,


Thinking out loud on Ukraine . . .

I tried to have no more posts of doom, I really did. But I need to talk out loud, so to speak, to sort out in my head all that's going on here.

Briefly put:

What is going on in Russia, and in Ukraine to some extent, is on my mind. Even more on my mind is what I've been reading in some of the non-mainstream corners of the web. Peak oilers, doomers and so forth seem sharply divided about exactly what happened in Ukraine, and what the larger context is.

The mainstream media, and even some peak oilers, think that Putin is Hitler or something close to it. The takeover of Crimea through a rigged election is a renewal of the Cold War and Russian expansionism. Troops are massing on the border, ready to take over the rest of Ukraine, and Estonia is next. The US must intervene militarily, or at least by funding anti-Putin Russian activists. The whole thing could end in World War III.

Some of them claim that the revolution in Ukraine (against a democratically elected government, though the elections themselves were thoroughly corrupt) was bought and paid for by the US to the tune of 5 billion dollars, and that the protestors were largely unregenerate Nazis or even that all the western Ukrainians are Nazis.

Meanwhile, a few other pundits mostly think that Putin is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Putin has called for a Russia in which individual rights are less important than traditional values. Sure, the members of Pussy Riot have been beaten and flogged, and homosexuals increasingly have reason to fear for their very lives, but who cares about those Bad Women and Awful Perverts when the vast mass of Russians -- and now the Crimeans, too -- are being protected from the tyranny of the increasingly psychopathic Western banksters and corporations?

Obviously, I think they're both wrong, or I'd hardly bother to think this through, much less post about it.

That Dmitri Orlov thinks this is perhaps not too shocking. He's a Russian-American, and he's already shown his MRA-bro attitude toward feminism. But The Saker, too, believes that Putin is the great white hope against the West.

Orlov and The Saker are, simply, dangerously misguided with their hero worship of Putin, who is just one more narcissistic, power-hungry asshole among all the other narcissistic, power-hungry assholes who currently run the US, Europe and Asia. Putin doesn't care about Russia; Putin cares about Putin.

Yes, Russia is -- currently -- enjoying one of those upward jags on the sawtoothed graph of civilization's decline. Most of this is actually no thanks to anything Putin has done: of all the asinine things Westerners have said about Russia, John McCain was closest when he called Russia a giant gas station masquerading as a country. The Soviet Union's collapse came during that period of very low gas prices in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Russia's current upswing is largely to do with the rising price of fossil fuels.

That may seem a good bet these days, but the problem will eventually be demand destruction, a concept which many libertarians and capitalists refuse to understand. In Europe, the price of living the good fossil-fuel life has already slipped out of reach of many Spaniards and Greeks. They're returning to a lower-tech, shorter-lived agricultural lifestyle without oil. And that's starting to spread outside of the PIIGs. We don't really know how many Americans have already dropped out of sight of our official records and the official lifestyle, and we probably won't know just how bad it's getting for a while longer. But when you raise the price of a commodity past what most people can afford, demand for it drops. Then prices collapse again. Never back to what they were before, and the commodity is unlikely to regain much demand, but enough to exert deadly economic pressure on the producers.

(This is why we'll never actually run out of oil and gas, by the way. What will happen is that it will become too expensive to get the stuff out of the ground, when prices go up past the point anybody can afford while profits still aren't high enough to offset the costs of production.)

True, the Russian people are safe from ruthless Western exploitation. They are now free to be exploited and systematically drained of wealth by their own homegrown power elite. For now, Putin looks good, because the economy is expanding. He won't look so good when Russia hits the next jag downward. The Saker can perhaps be forgiven for failing to understand this, but as a peak-oiler Orlov should know better.

The ultimate proof, to my mind, of Putin's true character is precisely his expansionism. Russia is currently trying to gain new territories, rebuilding an empire, during a period of good times. This is a fantastically short-sighted move; to do this involves burning through what remains of their fossil-fuel wealth. Perhaps, like the Roman Empire before him, Putin hopes to gain more in resources than he loses, at least for a while.

Robert Scribbler, on the other hand, is furiously denouncing anybody who defends Russia in the comments to his blog. The simple fact is that he doesn't see how things look to the average, mainstream Russian. As I've said, Putin looks good to most Russians right now.

The Russian Mafia is pretty much gone. For the first time since the collapse, the average Russian lifespan is increasing, and Russia is economically expanding. If you refrain from criticizing the government and especially Putin, and you don't side with Those People against traditional Russian Orthodox family values, you can live a very good life, at least for now.

And he's going to look even better in the near future, because in my opinion western Ukraine is inevitably headed toward failed-state status. It's in the same situation as Greece, mired in debt. Bizarrely, it's hoping to join the EU so it can run up the bill even higher, under the impression that this will magically solve all its problems and raise the living standard to something resembling Germany or at least Great Britain. It's easy to see where they got that idea, given that that's still the official line in Western media -- it's being sold to us as well. And the EU is undoubtedly eager to have Ukrainians buy this illusion, because it's increasingly desperate for another country to loot and strip resources from. Ukraine will learn too late that the wealth pump runs only one way.

As western Ukraine spirals into chaos while Crimea does reasonably well under Russian rule, Putin's image is going to get a big boost, even in the West. John Michael Greer has predicted that Marxism will see a resurgence in intellectual fashion in the West in the coming years; this might become one of the impetuses for that.

Larger context

You remember that "food price index" that predicted the unrest of the Arab Spring? Well, this spring, it's been bumping along at roughly the tipping point, 210. In March it was at 212.8. Trouble was pretty much bound to break out somewhere; Ukraine and Venezuela happened to be those somewheres.

Why does Russia have such a hardon for Ukraine? Historical reasons, of course, but it's not impossible that there are others. Ukraine is conspicuously lacking in fossil-fuel deposits of any sort -- the kind that draw the unwelcome attention of the great powers. What it does have is some of the planet's greatest farmland.

Is Putin merely doing another power-grab, or is he far-sighted enough, clear-sighted enough, to understand the value of that? Probably the former, but at least some other eyes may have an eye toward future food shortages.

But the most disturbing thing in this scenario is fallout from global warming. The majority of Russia's land mass sits on permafrost. While many Americans still sit with their fingers in their ears, chanting "Global warming is a liberal lie!", Russia is already suffering its effects. That permafrost has been steadily thawing and drying out for a while now. Since it is a dense mass of peat-like vegetation, it makes good fuel. And it has begun to burn on a massive scale.

The burning spread into agricultural areas, so it's beginning to directly affect Russia's ability to feed itself. So far, of the bloggers I've mentioned, Scribbler is the only one talking openly about this. Take a look; it makes for chilling reading.

I don't want to think about the boost this is going to give to global warming. I really don't.

It's amusing that apparently some people believed the thawing of the permafrost would create more agricultural land. Their only contact with plants must be the potted plants in the buildings they work in, cared for by maids and servants. They seem to be unaware that crops need not only sunlight but soil, and decent soil takes thousands of years to create, not a few seasons of warmth. Tundra soil is piss-poor; that's one reason the plants growing in permafrost have the special adaptations they do.

My conclusions, such as they are:

-- The fact is that the US no longer has the power to project its presence that close to Russia and that far from its power base. We are no longer that strong.

-- Sooner or later, Putin is going to run Russia right into another Afghanistan. (For those who don't know, Afghanistan was the Soviet Union's Vietnam.)
Tags: ,

Apr. 6th, 2014


Thoughts at 3 in the morning

I can lie awake in bed solving the world's problems -- or, more likely, deciding that they are insolvable and resolve to slash my wrists or find a way to blow the whole damn mess up at my earliest opportunity -- but it won't get me any nearer to that ecologically sensible little house and plot of land in Oregon or Washington.

I can love my cats and still call Samuel "pants-on-head retarded". Gods only know how. He's an inconsiderate bed mate, and very heavy.

And I still have a ton of Stuff to get rid of.

Apr. 5th, 2014


Book giveaway

I've got three more books to give away.

The Obsession: reflections on the tyranny of slenderness, by Kim Chernin. Old feminist classic, but I didn't get much good out of it.

The Tree: the complete book of Saxon Witchcraft, by Raymond Buckland.

Succulent Wild Woman: dancing with your wonder-full self!, by Sark.

Same rules as always: comment or email me personally if you already have an email address, and we'll work out where to ship it to.