Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Something Clever to Say

I often wonder how many misbegotten trends in IT have their origin in the need to say something clever about a subject that you don’t know very much about. Example (circa 2002):

Joe’s Manager: Joe, what do you think about this web services stuff?

Joe: (scrambling) I think it has a lot of potential but, uh . . ., they really need to solve the security problem first.

The truth of the matter is, at the time, Joe knew almost nothing about web services, SOAP, etc. but he had read/overheard just enough to know that “everybody” was concerned with “the security problem” (whatever that was). The result was the development of a boatload of  new technologies (WS-Security and its attendant profiles, WS-SecurityPolicy, WS-Trust, WS-SecureConversation, etc.) when the vast majority of SOAP deployments do fine with little more than SSL and BasicAuth. I remember a SOAP-oriented conference in 2005 in which a vendor rep asked the audience “How many of you are using or planning to use WS-Security?”. When only one hand (in a room of at least 100) went up, the rep went slightly non-linear saying something to the effect of, “WTF, you asked us to build all this stuff …?!?”

Fast forward to today and substitute “cloud” for “web services”. I’m willing to admit that there are a few security issues that are unique to the cloud (mostly around multi-tenancy), but I assert that 99% of “cloud security issues” are no different than current IT security issues. I’m worried that, in their need to have something clever to say about the cloud, people are creating the false impression that someone needs to invent a whole boatload of “cloud security” technologies when we simply need to re-apply our current security solutions.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

For the Children

While I’m on the subject of marijuana legalization, I just have to spend a few moments rebutting one of the stupidest arguments I heard in the recent debate on CA’s Proposition 19 - “If you legalize pot, all your kids will be doing it”.

To understand why I think this is such a dumb argument I have to relate the following. When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the late 70’s it was way, way easier for me (and everyone else I knew) to get our hands on pot than alcohol. Why was this? Because alcohol was legal for people 21 and over and pot was illegal for everybody.

The people I bought pot from, and the only way that anybody I knew got pot, were acquaintances of mine – sometimes slightly older kids. Meanwhile the only place to buy liquor was stores and bars. The kids selling me pot weren’t taking any great risk in doing so – we’re talking very small quantities here and you had to be a true idiot to get caught. The people who weren’t selling me liquor were doing so because they didn’t want to lose their liquor license for the sake of a cheap case of beer and a bottle of peach schnapps.

This may all be anecdotal, but I’m pretty sure it’s not. If you want to stop people from selling any kind of drug to kids you have to (a) legalize that drug for use by adults, (b) license the sale of that drug, (c) revoke that license if they are caught selling to minors. You need the carrot and the stick. If I were emperor of CA, I’d tie your liquor license, your lottery concession, and your marijuana license into one big bundle – get caught selling any of these to minors and we’ll revoke all three.

Prop 19 and Huck Finn

While reading Huckleberry Finn to Annelise I came across the following:

Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn't. She said it was a mean practice and wasn't clean, and I must try to not do it any more. That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don't know nothing about it. Here she was a bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.

For those that voted “no” on California’s recent Proposition 19, it seems like Huck has got your number.

Friday, January 15, 2010


This is a riff on something I heard some mad philosopher say on NPR, so the original idea isn’t mine (I don’t have any original ideas). This guy was ranting that “Nature” had replaced “God” as our cultural conscience. The clich├ęd assumptions are everywhere: everything that is Natural is good, Nature is harmonious and in balance,  humanity should strive to align itself with Nature - if/when we ever do, all will be well.

In truth Nature is anything but balanced. It only looks that way to us because our timescales are so ridiculously short. "Nature” is one giant cataclysm after another. Not once, but five times has this planet seen mass extinctions where, for example, 70% of the land species were completely wiped out. Massive floods of magma could bubble up from the Earth’s core (tomorrow) and wipe out the human race (along with all other mammals, most birds, reptiles, etc.). To “Nature”, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Nature isn’t our mother and Nature doesn’t care if we live or if we die. “Nature” doesn’t care if we do or don’t try to “live in harmony” with the current equilibrium point (however short-lived it may be).

I think we should stop deifying Nature and get pragmatic. Take the best telescopes we’ve got and look out at the universe. Do you see, anywhere, any place where humans beings can live that we can get to? No. Alright then, what we have here is a liferaft situation. We are living in the only place that we can live and we have to take care of it because we have no idea how long we may need it to last.