Archive for February, 2009

Crowdsourced Crime Analysis, Redux

Earlier this week, I posted about the recent wave of burglaries of churches here in Saint Paul, and linked to a Google Map listing of the incidents, suggesting that armchair mathematicians, statisticians, criminologists, and any other interested party should take a crack at spotting patterns in the crimes, or, really, extracting any other information from it they could – call it crowdsourced crime analysis, if you will.

The Google map doesn’t contain a lot of details, and many of you, in comments or in emails, clamored for details, especially the times of the incidents and what was taken. So, I started making phone calls, and today became the recipient of many of the available pertinent details on these incidents.

Before we get to that, though, there are a few things that need to be covered.
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Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on February 26th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

(Counter)insurgency How-To

The State Department recently released the “U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide”, which can be downloaded here (2.4MB PDF!). It’s chock-full of what can best be described as unwarranted optimism and flagrant propaganda, but still contains, albeit perhaps accidentally, the occasional point of interest. It’s primary value, as far as I’m concerned, is as a sort of ersatz how-to insurgency manual for rebellious malcontents, which I don’t think is quite what the authors intended.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad that the Guide barely discusses military use-of-force as a counterinsurgency tactic, because I don’t think shoot-first, ask-questions-later is automatically the best way to “deal with” insurgencies. That said, the emphasis on political appeasement as a magickal elixir for insurgencies, while it looks good on paper, is as yet unproven by the United States, essentially untried by the rest of the world, and I for one remain unconvinced that it’s a practical and effective approach.

I’m a pragmatist, of course, but is hypocrisy, however well-intentioned, really the best basis for what is purported to be an “intellectually rigorous” guide to foreign policy?

Published in: General | on February 25th, 2009 | No Comments »

Hacking the CE-507, Part 1

About a week ago, I posted a kind of offhand remark about how the “hackability” of non-wireless network hardware seemed to be largely under-explored, unlike the hundreds, literally, of wireless routers that have been hacked and modded. I pointed to obsolete – or at least “unsupported” – hardware as a potential untapped source of hackable, moddable devices for the cheap and curious. One of the devices I specifically pointed at was the Cisco Content Engine CE-507, a long-unsupported rackmount box that’s regularly available on eBay for $30 or less, and whose potential is largely unexplored.

Well, to make a long story short, a friend who reads this site dropped me an email, offering a well-used CE-507, free…
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Published in: Geekiness, General | on February 24th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

Explosions in the Night, Perplexing Experts

Minneapolis isn’t Baghdad or Kabul, but it is apparently being rocked by explosions on an all-too-frequent basis. They seem to be centered around the Mississippi River, and while authorities can explain away some of them, the cause of many remains a mystery. It’s been going on for a while, and while it – thankfully – doesn’t seem to be terrorism related, it’s still a bit depressing that authorities remain stumped.

My money is on people making dry-ice-bombs and throwing ‘em in the river – bottle floats downriver for a few minutes, explodes, and all the evidence, such as it is, sinks out of sight, leaving nothing for authorities to spot. More annoyingly, that kind of bomb doesn’t produce a flash, or even a cloud of smoke – just a boom.

Still, I’m kind of impressed by the amount of effort the MPD are evidently putting into finding the source of these explosions, and a bit perplexed why the city’s much-hyped array of accoustic “gunshot” detectors apparently aren’t even able to help pinpoint where the explosions are happening. Better living through technology? Maybe someday, in Minneapolis – but not, apparently, today…

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on February 24th, 2009 | No Comments »

Suitcase Alarm, or Bomb? You Be The Judge!

Hackedgadgets links to a quite clever homemade suitcase security system with, unfortunately, a pretty high potential to be mistaken for a bomb. It’s not that this – securing your bag – is necessarily a bad idea, but authorities worldwide tend to take a fairly dim view of people walking around with suitcases, laptop bags, or backpacks with electronic bits and wires both inside and sticking out. If you built one of these in, say, New York City, and walked around with it over your shoulder, I think the odds of you getting arrested as a suspected terrorist are pretty damned high; in someplace like, say, Jerusalem, your odds are just as good of being preemptively shot and killed. And, let’s face it, if you tried to bring this into pretty much any airport, anywhere, you’re basically guaranteed some up-close-and-personal attention from people in uniforms – before, during, and after they evacuate the terminal.

A couple years ago, there was a brief-lived fad in the jewelery world for making absolutely enormous pieces of jewelery, especially necklaces, and a writer in a trade publication opined that it seemed some designers had forgotten the first commandment of jewelery design: make nothing that will harm the customer. I’m not sure what the first commandment of gadget design is, but somewhere up near the top of the list had ought to be something to the effect of “make nothing that mere possession of which will, through no fault of their own, get your customers arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist.”

Hey, just because they’re not deep and insightful, doesn’t make them any less true, as words of wisdom go…

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on February 23rd, 2009 | No Comments »