Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Humans - Are We Good or Are We Bad?

Hi folks!

OK, this point continues to nag at me almost regardless of the topic under discussion. The main question is whether people are inherently bad (evil, greedy, grasping, cruel, destructive, stupid...) and manage under duress to achieve some rare moments of goodness, or conversely whether people are inherently good (thoughtful, caring, fair, intelligent, creative...) and occasionally perform acts of cruel stupidity.

To be clear: I belong to the "People are Good" camp. Moreso, I think people consistently prove to be almost preposterously good and only very rarely - and in often predictable ways for predictable reasons - behave badly.

It seems that there is something of a consensus in many societies today that people are inherently bad. What is particularly interesting is that this belief is very strong even in societies where the individuals in question enjoy personal freedoms and physical comforts beyond the wildest dreams of any human prior to the last few generations. Furthermore, I conjecture that this belief is a root cause of much of the negativity to be found in today's world.

Original Sin

The "Original Sin" myths of many religions set a baseline for the development of many of today's cultures and therefore bear part of the responsibility for the common malaise. It may have been an effective tool for societal control in days when even the brightest people thought that the space between stars was filled with ethereal jelly, but human development has outgrown whatever value this "built on a rotten foundation belief" can offer. Indeed, using "Original Sin" as a block in the foundation of an individual or a society *is itself* introducing the rot to that otherwise objectively sound foundation.

Focus on the Unusual

When any of us looks back on our lives, many of the moments which stick out among the years - and many of the stories we tell others - are the times when things went horribly wrong. When we look to see what is going on in the world around us - watching news, reading, talking to others - we often are interested in the abnormal events, looking for what has changed in the landscape around us.

This is a fundamental characteristic of any creature cognizant of its surroundings, and humans being (as far as we know) the most cognizant creatures on the planet, we should not be surprised to learn that much of the skill and art of our cognizance is centered around the comparative differentiation of data for the purpose of identifying unusual events.

We should also be conscious of this mechanism when evaluating our satisfaction with our environment, and recognize that the fact that we see a lot of negative information does not necessarily mean that we live in a terrible world or that people are inherently or statistically bad critters.

What I see in the world around me is a statistically small amount of bad stuff going on, in an ocean of good deeds.


Let's take a specific example - Stuttgart, Germany. I have been in this city a number of times and have walked around it with a good friend Frank Lange. It is a beautiful city wurrounded by mountains full of beautiful architecture and landscape, and populated by friendly people (as virtually every other place I've seen has been). What I see in Stuttgart is a place where for centuries people have been creative - building, gardening, working, and where on occasion terrible things have happened. In the mid twentieth century, there was a period of unprecendented violence and destruction, in the early 1900s there was another. Let's say to be conservative these periods were each a decade long (they were less), and that 20% of the twentieth century in Stuttgart was objectively on balance Bad. That leaves 80% of the century a period of creativity. Certainly an 80/20 ratio of creativity vs. destrucitivity is an intersting bit of data.


We find ourselves in an unusual situation for a species of creatures - we are so incredibly effective at surviving that much of our energy is now spent on controlling those abilities. Most other forms of life we are aware of strive and evolve to increase their ability to control the environment, mankind now spends much of its time attempting to foresee or reverse the impact of its ability to change its environement.

All of the evidence shows a lineage of individuals over the past million years who have incrementally increased their ability to understand the world around them, improving by steps their capacity to survive. Many of the most important characteristics developed early in the history of our sentient ancestors are what we intrinsically define as Good: cooperation, caring, teaching, cultivating, creating. Many of the characteristics we define as Bad are not unique at all to humans: war, murder, rape, theft, abuse.

Humanity is - to our current knowledge - the only example in the universe of life evolving to the point that concepts such as Good and Bad have any meaning at all. Reassuringly, it turns out that being Good is on average both a much more successful means of survival as well as a way of living that humans choose most of the time. I cannot help but be optimistic about our future, it looks pretty amazing!



Friday, April 08, 2005

A Bit of Dabbling in the Consipracy Paintbox...

Hi folks!

Happened upon an earnest young lady searching for answers. Seems her search has spiralled into a religioconspiracy rathole, and for no particular reason (the best kind) I have put a comment on a thread on her blog (http://www.livejournal.com/community/hood_of_israel/30529.html).

o Comments are screened, which rings bad but may be just her response to flamers so I leave my feelings on that one unclear. We'll see if she allows my comment, and one point for her if she does.

o Thread: Why did Hitler Invade Poland?
- Answer given at http://judicial-inc.biz/Broomberg.htm, which is the basis of the thread.
- Answer, foreseeably - it was a jewish conspiracy which has gone on to control the world, including what I am writing at this moment, even though I can't tell I'm being controlled and don't know what I will write next, myself.

o I signed my post on HOI's site as shown: chris blask, this blogsite and my email address. Not too sure about nicknames - nothing wrong with having any nick you like, but if you act under that nick you should feel perfectly ready to put an actual name to it as well.

o BTW, for my vote? Anyone that can run a conspiracy that well can go ahead and run the damn world. Obviously they have every other human group ever created beat hands-down on organizational effectiveness and will do a better job than you or I would.


-chris blask


Thread: Why did Hitler Invade Poland?

Subject: Why then France?

Hi folks,

OK, I'm not one of the believers (though I may be one of the blood, being an aryan german). As one of the posters said, you may expect some illiterate rant (which, btw, is what your opposition usually expects from you, and also has many "UR SO DUM" quotes from those from your camp to whine about). Instead, I tend to want to hear every side of every issue, no matter how much I may disagree. Who knows, maybe you folks know something I've never heard which completely changes my worldview? Doubt it very very much, but hey, what good is a debate with Dittoheads?

So, Poland pissed off Germany by doing horrible things, causing Germany to invade Poland. I won't dispute that at the moment, sounds like something a badly run country would do, which is the case in most countries throughout history.

So, what about France and the Netherlands? Did they piss off Germany too, or was that another case of the Good and Pure-Intentioned Germans being horribly wronged by the Jewish Conspiracy?

One other small point, pardon me if you "get this all the time", but how do you explain the incredibly complex and well-oiled machine of this All Powerful Consiracy? In my experience, groups of people can achieve really amazing things, but keeping a perfect secret for any length of time with any number of people involved is an accomplishment beyond my imagaination.

OK, really one last one. Also it always seems to me whenever I talk to the true conspiracy believers (and one of the best-informed is one of my oldest friends, so please don't get pissed at any perceived belligerence [getting pissed at my ideas is fine, that's what we Jewish Conspirators invented Freedom of Speech for... ;-]), I can't get past the picture of this collection of conspiracies and Secret Societies spanning centuries all competing with eachother for supremacy. In the end it looks to me like the usual Open Market Resources issue - as long as they compete against each other (assuming they exist) they effectively cancel themselves out. Even if there is a Jewish Conspiracy, there is certainly a Hindu Conspiracy, a Muslim Conspiracy, a Christian Conspiracy (you may be part of it, afaik) and others all wrestling with eachother. As long as we (the species) don't let any one of you groups/conspiracies/religions/whathaveyou have too large a percentage of the free oxygen - and we achieve that by keeping you all out in the open (a favorable by product of Freedom of Speech, which itself is simply the only rational way to exist) - it all cancels out like an interference pattern.

Go ahead and have your jewish/nazi/masonic conspiracies. Whatever social lessons there are to be gained for the species will be vetted in the cauldron of Free Speech, Free Enterprise and the aggregate individual choices people, on average, make so well.

-chris blask

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Information Security

Hi folks!

OK, what do I have to say about infosec?

There are a number of interesting dynamics at play with information security. Of course there are the technical issues:

o "how do you encrypt data securely?"
o "how do you allow an http connection across an organizational boundary securely?"

However, in my experience the most important factors are the practical and pragmatic:

o "given who am I, what do I do to move from my current state to a more secure state?"
o "given all factors, what level of operational security can I achieve in what period of time?"
o "is my current/desired security level sufficient to reduce the risk to the same or less than other risks I face?"

To set the tone of my views on infosec (and most other complex efforts), let me share one of the first and most fundamental lessons I learned about the evolution of technology in the face of group dynamics:

John Alsop - currently CEO of BorderWare II - was my boss at Sea Change when we dreamed up and built the first BorderWare Firewall Server. Something John said to me before the launch of the Firewall Server has always stuck with me and provided a lot of comfort when seemingly intractable challenges reared their ugly heads.

In the early Nineties I had been talking to various folks about this new Internet Security Gateway product we were building, and an engineer at a potential customer - who had more knowledge than I did at the time about how TCP/IP works - dismissed the potential of the Internet because there weren't enough IP addresses available, what with folks grabbing entire Class A addresses (16,777,216 IP addresses), and told me that the Internet was doomed. I did the math, saw the problem, and rushed into John's office to see if it was true that my vision of the future of the 'Net was hosed. John, unflappable as always, told me this gem;

"I learned long ago that if a technical problem stands in the way of enough demand for a fix, solutions will emerge organically."

A few months later we released the BFS as the first commercial Network Address Translation gateway (ironically at the same time as the other first NAT gateway - PIX :-), and since then everyone can have sixteen million computers on their network while using only one public Internet IP Address. It has been consistent in my experience that the same holds true for other roadblocks - whether it is a new type of attack that arises and seems at first glance to be unmanageable or an issue of sociology - aggregate need for a solution drives the creation of solutions with an irresistible force.

Therefore, at any one time the security solutions which exist or are in the process of creation form a very good fit with the pattern of needs being felt by the community of Internet users. Where the available or emerging solutions can be seen to fail to match the current and foreseeable pattern of needs, business opportunities exist for anyone who can address that gap.

o FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt)

- The immutable fact described above - that the open nature of the technical foundation of the Internet and Free-Market Capitalism allows anyone anywhere to recognize a need for an infosec solution and make a living addressing it - should be a great source of comfort for consumers of infosec and should be the foundation that infosec folks communicate to their customers. Using FUD to scare customers into buying Security Product XYZ not only fails to address the consumer's real desire (to remove the barrier of fear which is stopping them from achieving desired goals), but worse it creates a general malaise among the non-infosec community ("well, since it is hopeless and beyond my understanding, no sense in even trying...") leading to a vicious cycle of less security being in place, more proof of the common belief in hopelessness, less adoption of security...

Areas needing development.

o Managed Security Service Providers

- it appears that the MSSP space is on the verge of developing the kinds of services that will be consumed in volume. This will require a separate article to delve into, and a stiff Irish coffee...

o Identity

- the solution to SPAM lies in identity.

- electronic voting is enabled by identity.

- absolutely no-one uses secure passwords or authentication. The only thing keeping identity at all functional at the moment is the volume of targets for bad guys and the basic honesty and sense of fairness that is by far more common than a lack thereof.

Is infosec a hopeless effort?


The ongoing existence of the Internet and its startlingly high availability is living proof that infosec problems are not catastrophic. While there remains a risk that infosec failings can be exploited to cause significant harm - and these risks deserve all of the attention those in the industry dedicate to them - people using information technology should not overtly worry about the issue from moment to moment. Because of the nature of the Internet, open systems, standards and the motivation of those who use and develop the technologies that run the infrastructure, the Good Guys are at least as capable, more numerous and much better funded than the Bad Guys, and will stay that way.



Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One word answer to All the World's Problems - "Internet"

Hi folks!

I often find myself wandering into this topic deep into discussions about major global issues. It seems to me that if we can avoid fatal global catastrophies for just a bit longer the Internet itself will be the vehicle for solving the root causes. The reason the Internet solves all the world's problems lies in the answer to this question:

"What happens when every living human has access to all information and is free to decide what to do with it?"

The Case of the Syrian Shopkeeper

Bill McGee and I have been discussing this trend and comparing notes and examples of progress we find laying about for more than ten years. One such shared tidbit about two years ago comes to mind frequently in this context. I was reading a newpaper in Amsterdam and came across a short article about Internet access creating pressure for change in Syria. A 24-year-old Syrian shopkeeper was quoted as saying, "They can't hide anything from us anymore. The world is one big ball. We want the same things everyone else does."

I immediately called up Bill and rehashed the implications of 24-year-old Syrian shopkeepers being *capable* of making such statements. These are the kinds of things I watch for and had expected to see all along, but like so many other examples I've seen this brief quote struck me to the core. Here was an individual who only a few dozen months earlier would never have had the ability to acquire information through anything other than the few controlled media within his physical reach.

Tianammen Square

In 1990 I got in a heated debate with someone in Usenet political newsgroups (well, actually that happened quite a lot, but this pertains to one specific instnace), and we took our argument off the main list and emailed back and forth. We digressed to topics we agreed on - specifically the impact of the Internet on geopolitics - and he told me this story.

His son was a 22-year-old Canadian exchange student in China in 1989. He happened to be in Beijing when the uprising broke out. Since he had been travelling in places where phone connections could be as simple as a set of wires he had a modem in his laptop with alligator clips. He found himself in a room facing Tianammen Square and a pair of live telephone wires. He dialed his laptop into the university in Hong Kong and from there sent his father detailed descriptions of what was going on as the tanks rolled. Today with digitial cameras he would be sending pictures and video as well.

Just how *does* a dictatorial government maintain the control of information that creates their power base, once the Internet exists?

The Phillipino Cabbie

I arrived in Toronto once last year and had to take an airport limo for an hour long ride. Being in a boisterous mood, I immediately engaged in a conversation with the driver and threw down my most contenscious gauntlet - "freedom of information and ubiquitous access (specifically, the Internet) solves all the world's problems". Much to my surprise he agreed emphatically. This is the story he told me.

In ~1970 he had been living in Manila under the Marcos regime. I put him around fifty now, so at that time he would have been in his mid twenties, full of fire and daring. So much so, that he and five friends said some things publically against the corruption and injustice of the Marcos gang. Two nights later while the six of them were together in the evening some gentlemen in dark clothing stopped by to hold all his friends down and blow their brains out while he watched. They then put him in a basement cell for five months, and then brought him out into a field at night and made this offer:

"You can go free, everything's cool, we would just ask that you make a big point out of telling everyone how much you realy *love* Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, their assorted thugs, cronies and murderous freaks." If that was a problem for him, his hosts would be happy to shoot him right then and there. Well, his answer wasn't appropriate so they shot him and left him for dead.

[Normally this isn't screwed up - I mean, if you are going to do something as serious as actually killing someone at your feet you think you'd pay attention and finish the job - but I suppose when you do anything over and over again you will botch the task sooner or later. Anyway, other than a scar in his chest he's none the worse for wear now.]

For all of the Real Life Action/Adventure that led up to this man landing on an airplane in Toronto, it is an experience on the airplane that caused the most emotion in his account. He said that there was a Saturday Toronto Star on the plane (the Very Thick edition), and when he looked up from reading it the plane was empty. He hadn't noticed the plane land, or anyone else get off --- because he had never seen anything resembling the truth in print in his life.

"The only truth in the newspapers under Marcos were the weather and the sports scores.", he said.

Ivory Coast, Africa

There is a village on the coast in The Ivory Coast that has been a subsistence fishing village. The loss of children to malnutrition was high, as was the loss of husbands and fathers to storms at sea.

Some group (not sure who, this was from a CNN Talkback Live episode, circa 2000, with John Morgridge) for their own reaons chose to put two cheap computers and a modem in the one-room schoolhouse in the village, to assist with education.

No one knew that the men in the community would discover that they could study ocean currents and satellite weather maps to fish more efficiently and more safely. Every day before dawn the fishermen gather in the schoolhouse and check data. Orphanhood is down and children do not die of starvation.

In Afghanistan at this moment there is a small child who will change the world for the better, as long as the information is there for that child to use. I, for one, intend to do what I can to make sure that the access is there when that child wants to use it.



Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Evolution of Medical Technology

Hi folks!

One of the things that I have enjoyed the most in my life to date has been having the opportunity to talk with a very large number of very diverse people. If I am not sleeping, reading or working on an airplane, for example, and you would like to pursue one of these three activities but have had the misfortune to be seated next to me, it's best just to surrender early. Of all the topics I have surveyed people on, the future of medical technology produces the most consistently hostile reaction.

It seems to me that the desire for a long and happy life that each of us carries plays a key role in making us deny the obvious result of the direction that we are heading with our understanding of human biology. Most people I have discussed this topic with - notably including those working as researchers in the medical field - fail to see the (imho rapidly approaching) culmination of the science - physical immortality.

OK, have your reaction, get it out of your system, and allow yourself to treat the topic objectively.

o The human organism is a system of finite complexity.

- In other words, the physical structure that makes up me - or you - is less complex than the entire universe, less complex than this entire planet, less complex than the structure of the building I am in and its contents (at the moment including four of us human objects). It is bounded by physical, quantitative and quantifiable limits, and it is comprehensible.

o The total cumulative understanding that humans currently posses of the human organism is greater than it was yesterday. Tomorrow our understanding will grow by a greater amount than it did today.

- It is possible to know everything about the game of Euchre. It is possible to know everything about a supercomputer. All that is required is that the volume of data that defines a set of knowledge is acquired one piece at a time until it is complete. The same is true of the workings of the human organism, and we add to the set that we have acquired every day, each day faster than the day before.

Q. How do you eat a whale?

A. One bite at a time.

Here are my predictions:

Q. Will the complete set of data defining the human organism be in the possession of mankind in 1,000 years?

A. Yes.

Q. 500 years?

A. Yes.

Q. 250 years?

A. 90% likely.

Q. 125 years?

A. 50% likely.

Q. 75 years?

A. No. However, in 75 years the human organism may be well know enough to extend the lifespans of some individuals currently alive, to the point that their physical aging is outpaced by medical advances. Immortals are among us today, even if it is only one child.

If I am correct, then there are a large number of issues which appear intractable that need to be addressed within the foreseeable future. To keep this from being a novel, major issues that come to mind are itemized below. I may expand on these in further articles.

o Population.

- and, no, emmigration into space does not help global population control. It's simple math - even if at some point in the future 100,000 people emmigrated from off the planet *every single day*, that would be 36.5 Million per year. 36.5M/year would have no useful impact on population on the ground, particularly since by such a time it can be reasonably expected that mortality will be much lower and lifespans much longer.

- parenthood/siblinghood. The social changes brought about by population control impact whether people become parents and what their experience as parents is like. Also changed is the pattern of siblinghood, resulting in individuals having fewer siblings as well as the changes in developmental experiences that growing up with fewer (or no) siblings bring. As fewer people become parents, and as more people grow up as only children, the dynamics of how we relate to each other are affected. Do our cultures move towards greater valuing of children, more cognizant and responsible parenting? Do our cultures instead move towards more individual isolationism? Do we get better or worse at understanding truisms like "you are your brother's keeper"?

o Crime and criminals.

- as long as old crooks die off, failing to rehabilitate them is a problem that resolves itself as they die. What happens when we can expect the criminal to be with us indefinitely? Since our system for dealing with criminals has a near 0% success rate of converting them into non-criminals (and in parallel possesses the ability to create criminals with great success), what do we do to fix the problem?

o Sick Memes.

- ideologies which circle around destructive and self-supporting memes can erode over generations, as long as preceding generations of unreformables die off. What happens when that erosion ceases?

Of course there are positive ramifications. In my opinion history will show that this transition truly defines "Childhood's End" for us as a species, and the incredible potential and accomplishments we find embodied in humanity will blossom beyond even my most aggressive forecasts.

o Individual human potential.

- humans achieve astounding results with the time we have in our lives. What happens when an individual can continue to pursue their goals over long periods of time?

While we remain lost in the granular nature of the topic - considering how it affects us, or focusing on our specific area of interest or expertise - the cumulative volume of data grows without pause. This is a topic that I look forward to revisiting decade to decade - I expect to see a shift in the popular view during the years I have left to observe.

While I do not expect to be one of those to make the long haul, I expect my grandchildren - and perhaps even children - have every chance of reading these words aloud at the turn of the next millennium.



Monday, March 07, 2005

Welcome to Blask Works!

Hi folks!

This blog is a forum to exercise my thoughts on topics including: Information Security, politics, philosophy, ethics, physics, sociology, biomechanics, genetics, memetics, market analytics and anything else that strikes my fancy.

It is a basis of my beliefs that the understanding of a topic is best aided by a lively discourse wherein positions can be built, defended, dismantled and reconstructed by the participants. When such discourse is conducted with participants who fervently defend positions by enunciating points of debate, the mechanics of the topic lay themselves bare and Solutions (yes, I said it) are made obvious.

Please feel free to contribute your thoughts - the march of Memetic Evolution may well amplify the motion of your fingers on a keyboard to change the structure of the world.