Friday, January 03, 2014

Bits and Pieces - January 4, 2013

Resolution: I'll post more here this year.

I'm not impressed by Edward Snowden, and I find the "revelations" being published by a variety of reporters and hangers-on frequently overblown and showing some large misunderstandings of, say, how slide presentations are originated and how to understand them. I also find Snowden's statements about himself self-contradictory in places and wonder why reporters take his statements at face value, with little investigation beyond asking a presence at the other end of a computer. How do they even know it's Snowden? So I largely agree with Fred Kaplan's response to the recent flurry of calls for the government to grant Snowden clemency.

Two examples of what I find hard to incorporate into a story of a highly intelligent, conscientious whistleblower: 1) The Washington Post story on NSA's work on a quantum computer. Of course NSA is working on a quantum computer. Computing is what they do. They want better computers. Many people believe that a quantum computer is that better computer. This is not sinister. Of course they want it to crack encryption. So do the hackers, the Russians, the Chinese, and anyone else who can afford the research. This is not news. But it is presented as if it is somehow sinister.
In room-size metal boxes ­secure against electromagnetic leaks, the National Security Agency is racing to build a computer that could break nearly every kind of encryption used to protect banking, medical, business and government records around the world.
The security against electromagnetic leaks is essential to the work that is done to develop a quantum computer. The metal box is called a Faraday cage. I've used Faraday cages. So has anyone who has worked with delicate electronics. And the ever-present could, which serves such heavy duty throughout the "revelations."  Could is not is, but the reporters seem to think it is.

I could go on with that article, but here's example 2)
Watching CNN on New Year’s Eve, I learned that the National Security Agency was able to snoop on everything I did or said on my iPhone. Actually, I had been reading this for a couple of days on an assortment of web sites, whose idea of reporting seems to consist pretty much entirely of reading and borrowing from other web sites, with, or more likely without, attribution.
The story starts sensational, and even the few qualifications in the original story get dropped out, and we always seem to wind up with THE NSA IS SPYING ON YOOOUUU! Which isn't likely the case, unless you have friends who act like or are terrorists. Read the whole thing; it maps the process out nicely.

Enough griping about Snowden and his hangers-on.

Here's a very good story about the rise and fall of popularity of the eucalyptus tree in California.

Since we're talking about California, we might observe that every time someone does a scientific test of wine-tasting, it seems to show that the results depend on the taster's perception of the quality of the wine before tasting and are otherwise random.

Does feminism need an intellectual voice? Who? How?

Being honest on Iran: the hawks in Congress.

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