Gongol.com Archives: January 2011
Brian Gongol

January 6, 2011

Computers and the Internet The massive insecurity of Social Security numbers
(Video) If your birthday and hometown are listed in public (like on a Facebook profile), then it's not as hard as one might think to deduce what your Social Security number might be. That's one of the unintended consequences of radical transparency, as espoused by Mark Zuckerberg and others. The old systems of identity aren't really designed to handle the problems that tend to emerge under the new model of openness.

Computers and the Internet Spam volumes go into sudden decline
It's been noticeable on a personal basis, and the anecdotes are confirmed by the data: Spam volumes are about 20% of what they were in the summer. Whether that's the result of declining effectiveness, better anti-spam campaigns, or something else (like the buildup to a whole new approach to sending spam which we're not likely to enjoy) remains unknown.

Threats and Hazards Prototype of a Chinese stealth fighter...maybe
The editor of Jane's Defense Weekly thinks the photo is legitimate, and that the plane really is under development, combining stealth technology with Russian engine designs. When combined with powerful weapons like "carrier-killer" missiles, which might also be under development, this could be a signal that China is making rapid strides ahead in developing military technology. The Soviet Union fell, in part, because much of its economic might and technological know-how was diverted to building better arms. China, by contrast, is building its private-sector wealth while apparently also developing this military technology. While it's easy for Americans to take for granted that we live under the umbrella of an effective military defense, that's never really been the standard under which most of the rest of the world could live. If China is on the rise as a military power, as it quite likely could be, the world will be much better off if we can all avoid diverting huge amounts of intelligence and effort into building a new cold war.

Business and Finance France is besieged by "economic war"
The country's well-known carmaker, Renault, says it's under attack by people trying to steal their proprietary technology for electric cars. This development cannot be divorced from today's news that China may be developing a stealth fighter: If the theft of intellectual property continues not only to expand, but to be tacitly tolerated by governments that can and should be doing something about it, then we could face an incredibly unstable future. There are already those who say that the patent system is so fatally flawed as to be unusable (they say you're better off hoping to keep your proprietary secrets in-house rather than publishing your ideas for the record). But if there's not even at least an attempt made to halt the theft of ideas from their rightful creators, then there may be a dangerous devaluation of innovation.

Agriculture UN warns that food prices are moving dangerously high, dangerously fast
Food-price volatility is nothing to be sneezed at -- the vacillations are getting extreme, with some commodities rising and falling by 50% in a year. That diminishes the predictive power of market prices and leads to uncertainty for farmers and consumers alike. And that instability in turn causes people to invest inefficiently in their plans for the future -- metaphorically, causing people to spend lots of money to stockpile canned corn when they could instead be using the same money to take a class at a community college -- and the tradeoffs initiated by that inefficiency of pricing information is no good for anybody. Nor is starvation, of course. And it always comes back to the question of how well we store our food -- which, it turns out, is not well at all.

Water News What's really in bottled water?

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