What could the NSA do with 1 yottabyte?

August 6, 2013

I had never heard of a yottabyte or a yotta anything before I read an article about the NSA’s new data storage facility in Utah. The recent revelation that the government actually had access to the telephone, television, and internet networks, something that anyone who worked on a telecom product or for a telecom company has known for the last 30 years (that ability is actually part of many telecom standards), it seemed reasonable that the government might be recording stuff. The only revelation is really how much data they can store.
One yottabyte is 10 to the 24th power bytes. Let’s see what could fit into that storage. For simplicity I will assume one year of data for each example.
1. Phone call meta data: Assuming there are 3 billion calls per day and each meta data record is 100 bytes that would yield 1.1e+14 (that means 1.1 times 10 to the 14th power) bytes/year. So that accounts for .00000001% of the storage.
2. Actual phone calls: Assuming 15% of the public is on the phone at any one time, and 33% of those are talking to someone outside the U.S. That would yield 10% of 350 million calls at 8 kB/s = 8.83e+18 bytes/year or about .001% of the storage. That is EVERY phone call in to, out of, and within the U.S.
3. Video feeds: This is more difficult but lets assume there are 10 million video feeds in the U.S. (including security cameras, intersection cameras, broadcast TV, Radio, private and public video conferencing etc.). If each video feed is 1 MB/sec (standard definition quality) you get a total of 3.15e+20 bytes or 0.03% of the storage.
4. Internet meta data: This is the latest revelation – the NSA wants the source and destination IP address of every packet on the internet. Here I will assume some degree of filtering but let’s assume 200 bytes per record and an average of 1 record per second per person. This would yield 2.2e+21 bytes/year or 0.2% of the storage. They would basically know every webpage every person ever visited.
5. Text messages: Estimates are there are 2.5 billion text messages sent per day in the U.S. Assuming each is about 200 characters, that yields a measly 1.8e+14 bytes/years. Not even worth mentioning.
So what is the NSA putting in that storage given that if one year’s worth of all text, phone calls, video, and internet metadata account for not even 1% of the capacity of their facility.

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Obamacare Creates 860% Tax Bracket

April 18, 2013

California has a website that you can use to figure out if you qualify for a tax credit towards the new 2014 standardized health plans. Turns out for a family of 4 with a household income of $94,000 you get an $8304 tax credit (whose pretax value is about $11,000). If you make $1000 more, $95,000 per year, the credit is 0. So that means that $1000 in income cost you about $8,600 in taxes which is a 860% tax bracket. Wow. Living on the dole is starting to look more and more attractive even to people making $90K a year. Note to employers, educate your employees that they may actually be better off taking less income.

What are we watching?

October 17, 2012

Is Your Site Password-Worthy?

July 27, 2012

I hate passwords. I just read an article on Yahoo about how to make your password more secure. I think this is the wrong message. Passwords should be abolished altogether. It seems that almost every site on the web, in order to see the interesting stuff, has you enter a user name and password.. Let me tell you, most of these sites are not password-worthy. First you have to set up an account name. Since these have to be unique (it’s a computer thang), probably one name won’t cover all sites. I have a nice yahoo name, but since I got it 15 years ago it was available. That same name is not available on pretty much any other site so I have to add letters and numbers and whatever to get an account name that works. Who can remember these?

On the issue of user names, why not just use your email address? I try to do this when I can but lots of sites don’t allow the @ or . symbol (in which case I drop it) or don’t allow long names. Also this method reveals your email address, because often your account name is something that is public. Why not eliminate user names altogether, base log-in on email address and allow an arbitrary public name which doesn’t have to be unique. A computer is smart enough to figure out how to deal with non-unique user names (the technique is called capabilities). Right now, for non-password-worthy sites, I use a free yahoo mail address – as a side benefit all the spam goes into that email, which I haven’t looked at in years.

Once you create an account name you have to pick a password, which inevitably is even more difficult than picking a user name because no two sites have the same rules for passwords. Some allow special characters, some don’t, and some require them. Some have length limits. some force a certain minimum length. Some allow you to use any password you want, some judge the “strength” of your password and don’t allow what they consider to be “weak” ones. One site I signed up with recently (comcast) forces your password to be between 8 and 16 characters contain a lower case, an upper case a number and a special character. I guess their biggest fear is that someone hacks into my account and cancels HBO. My bank forces me to change my password after a month of inactivity, and doesn’t let me change my password to any password I’ve used it in the last 5 months. They also make me answer 3 questions every time I log in from a different computer and now they call my cell phone and I have to punch in a verification code, all this to log in. Next I expect they will send a phlebotomist over to check my DNA. I have resorted a simple method of picking passwords: I write how I feel when I’m using their site. It seems to be the easiest to remember.

Next, most (if not all) sites now have a way to obtain your user name and your password if you have forgotten them. This is what I usually do. Almost all of these lookups are based on email address and then maybe ask a question like “Who is your favorite hot actress?”, something you answered 5 years ago when you were into girls with short hair and big boobs. I digress. Then you get a link in your email box that acts as a password, maybe for an hour of so, during which time they expect you to enter yet another password that you will never remember. This is the technique that some cracker used to steal Sarah Palin’s emails.

I’m sure there is some site out there that just collects passwords and then tries to break into people’s accounts using deviations from these baselines. I use the same password for most sites, who cares if someone breaks in, I don’t store anything important on 99% of the password protected sites anyway.

At this point in the development of the internet one has to ask, “why do we still use passwords?” Hasn’t someone come up with something better?

One suggestion (from by brother) is to allows users to select a question and answer as a password. That way you can use lots of different passwords and be reminded of what password you used for that site, without anyone else understanding the hint.

Another suggestion is maybe it is time to use cell phones to do authentication (authentication is a technical term for figuring out if you are you). Most people have them and sending a message every time you log in is probably not that expensive. For those people who don’t have or want to use a cell phone, you email server could act as an authentication agent.

Of all the sites I go to these days, maybe three are password-worthy. The rest I either use so rarely that having a password is impossible, or are so unimportant that I don’t really know why they bother. Therefore, I hereby establish “The committee to abolish passwords”. Membership is free, no usernames or passwords are required. Just reply to this posting. (Does wordpress require a username & password?)

Whitman Run and Hit

October 2, 2010

Meg Whitman hit a snag a couple days ago, or perhaps I should say a hag hit Meg Whitman. Gloria Allred, the hag in question, took her usual approach to lawyering and called a press conference to throw $#!@ on Whitman in the name of an “undocumented” worker, reporting that said worker had just filed a complaint claiming she was abused and underpaid and entitled to monetary compensation from Whitman. The worker then went on to claim that she had lied to Whitman about her immigration status but still thinks that Whitman wrongfully fired her for not having the right to work in the country. Since being fired was the legal thing to have happen, she instead claims, over a year after she was fired, that Whitman made her work extra hours and didn’t reimburse her for car mileage. So let me get this straight – Allred is putting this worker out there to admit that she has committed numerous federal crimes to get gas money? Nobody can really believe that. Allred should be brought up on charges of incompetent representation, and disbarred because it is clear that she is not acting the interest of her client, but in her own political interest. Is it possible, as Allred has later intimated, that this was the worker’s idea? Who cares, Allred is still not acting in her interest. I can hear it now in court: “Your Honor, I just wanted my $100 in gas money from that billionaire bitch, but instead of asking for it I decided to file a complaint and have a press conference.  Doesn’t everyone have a press conference when they file a complaint for $100?  Still haven’t gotten the $100, but I did get $1M in legal fees defending myself from perjury, forgery, fraud and other federal charges. Of course someone is paying my legal fees for me.  I think his name is Jorge Pardo.”

I think Whitman has missed something here. She should offer to hire a lawyer to represent the worker in legal issued caused by Allred’s stunt, including deporation hearings, federal charges, and of course going after Allred. That would be the legal thing to do.

What Would Happen if the Government ran BP?

July 26, 2010

BP’s oil leak in the Gulf has been stopped. When the leak started, due to a massive explosion of a drilling rig, BP told us that it would take 90 days to plug the leak. It took 85. When Barack Obama became president he told us that fixing the financial system was his number one goal. It took him 18 months and he still has half the job left (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are excluded from this new financial bill). The oil leak can be monitored to see if it is leaking, the financial system now has more laws whose effects can never be understood or controlled. Ironically, government scientists slowed down the final days of plugging the leak because they were afraid something might blow up, at the same time ex-president Clinton suggested we blow up the well with a nuclear bomb. Thank God he isn’t the president any more. BTW, the technology used to install a new blowout protector onto the broken one a mile down in the ocean is incredible. The engineers on the project, those that designed and fabricated the ultimate solution, and those that operating the remove control robots should get an award from the government. Instead I except you will hear moaning of the next few years about why things couldn’t have gone smoother or faster.

There Are No Heroes Anymore

July 3, 2010

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a defining moment for this country and I’m afraid that we are doomed. The leak started because of either bad engineering or sloppy implementation. A chain reaction of human and equipment failure ended in a drilling rig burnt to a crisp and a mile long pipe on the floor of the ocean leaking crude oil into the deep water. The final failure, the mechanical device that is designed specifically to stop the leak didn’t work. Every oil well in the world has one of these devices and they are very big and very expensive but this one, like the one 30 years ago in Mexico, didn’t close off the pipe to stop the oil. Nobody yet knows why it failed, whether it can’t close because of too much unintended pressure or debris or something broke inside, but it doesn’t matter now because nobody is trying to fix it. BP engineers have been slowly and cautiously capturing the oil coming from the leak but it seems that the designs and plans for what to do in this case are being executed on the fly. Is there a device designed to recap the well? Got to design and build it. They tried one at the beginning but knew that it would fail, and it did. Now they are scrambling. Well at least BP is scrambling.

On the other hand we have the various governments trying to handle the clean-up. The leak itself seems to be far from the capabilities of anyone in the government so that rests with BP. Obama has put the Coast Guard in charge of the clean-up. It is safe to say that an operation of this size is a bit above their pay grade but they have done well to do what they know. The problem is that they have no way of thinking big or acting big. Had Obama established an office in the Navy to coordinate efforts perhaps things would be going better. Had he convened an emergency meeting of all U.S. oil companies, drilling companies, service companies, and foreign governments and oil companies perhaps something better could have come of things. But Obama is going by the book and that means the Coast Guard is in charge of the water, the EPA is in charge of the beach, and the Army Corp of Engineers is in charge in between. What does that really mean? Nobody is in charge.

Local governments, like Lousianas, have tried to push to do more themselves, but for the most part it seems that their efforts are thwarted by Federal agencies who don’t really understand what they are doing. The EPA, you would like from the name, was established specifically to protect the environment, but no. Like all government agencies their job is to protect themselves and enforce their rules. Sometimes you have to break a rule in order to enforce the intent of the rule. For example, if you build a machine to suck up oil contaminated water and remove most but not all of the oil, returning the partially cleaned up water back to the ocean, the EPA will see that as polluting the water. That is their rule.

So who should we blame for this leak? Some say our addiction to oil. That is like saying that our need for food is the cause of farm based water pollution. How about BP. Well, BP certainly did dig this hole ill prepared for the consequence of such a disaster. But then we rely on BP and their like to provide oil, cheap oil, not to keep us safe or clean. So that means the failure here should be blamed on those that stood up and said that they would protect the environment: the government and the environmental movement. These are the people to blame. Why blame environmentalists? Because most, if not all, environmental groups are run by lawyers, lawyers who advocate for one side and do not understand that just because they may win one in court doesn’t mean that they are protecting anything but their lifestyle. Sue to stop drilling in place A and the drillers move to place B, then C, until they find some place that nobody will sue and then they can do as they wish. The methods used by environmentalists are not conducive to good public policy, they are selfish and narrow-minded. The government on the other hand is pretty much always shown to be just plain incompetent. Would you trust your health care to the EPA?  I guess we will find out.

One last comment. What I would like to see here is for someone in the Gulf Coast to stand up and take back control of their land, of their livelihood, even if the Feds tell them they cannot. I would like to see a Governor say “We will protect our beaches this even if the Feds says we cannot. We will build the berms, the barriers, the filters we need to keep our waters safe and shores clean, even if some Federal bureaucrats say we cannot. We will not sit and wait for approval, we will act. If that means that we will be arrested then let it be, I will be first.” Unfortunately there are no heroes any more.

Health Care Winners and Losers

March 22, 2010

Now that Congress has passed the bill they called the healthcare bill, let me offer some of my opinions and predictions. First let’s start with the bill itself. That bill has little to do with healthcare. The bill is primarily a tax and welfare bill. Lots of new taxes and thievery from other entitlements to give to people who “cannot afford” health insurance. There are only a handful of healthcare related pieces of the bill, but lots of health INSURANCE related pieces. On the healthcare front the main statement the bill makes is that we spend too much on health care and the federal government is going to put a stop to that!  How? Ultimately by killing people without giving them healthcare. That is what all other countries do. People die in line waiting for care they need to make them healthy, or are denied healthcare completely because it just too costly. Will Americans put up with that?  Good question. Will we even know it? Probably not. After all, ask a doctor in 1970 to use his MRI machine to find if you have a brain tumour and he will look at you like you are insane. Why? Because the MRI machine was invented in 1974. How many new medical inventions will this bill inspire? My guess. None. Health care worldwide died on 2/21/10.

The Winners:

  1. Health insurance companies. WTF? Evil insurance companies were the reason the bill passed. Why would they be the big winners? Let’s take the electric power industry as an example.  Are they still around? Do they have good profits? Do they suffer from being regulated? Yes. Yes. and No. The power industry was determined to be necessary for everyone by the federal government in the 1930’s. They became a regulated monopoly. Anything that is deemed necessary, or in the current vernacular “too big to fail”, will eventually be controlled by the government. But, those people in the government that control these utilities are basically too stupid to control them. We see time and again that government regulators are years, if not decades, behind the things they regulate. The utilities, on the other hand, will lead these regulators by the nose, keeping their profits stable and sucking dollars from their captive audience forever. Take your electric bill. Does it go down? I don’t think so.
  2. Federal Bureaucracy. Nancy Pelosi claimed in her giggle laden speech before the vote that this bill would create 4 million jobs. I will assume that 90% of those are her plans for how the federal bureaucracy will grow. It might take a few years but I wouldn’t doubt that Obama will try starting tomorrow to hire as many of those 4 million as he can.

The Losers:

  1. Low-paid workers. Expect unemployment to increase to 12% reported and 17% actual. Eventually if things keep going this way we will match European unemployment rates because we will have the same economic system as Europe. Why low-paid workers? Because those workers will cost more to employers so they will be …  fired.
  2. Real taxpayers. By real taxpayers I’m talking about people who pay the majority of the taxes, or as the Democrats call them, the wealthy.
  3. The U.S. Economy. The taxes imposed by this system will not be an incentive to economic growth. This will contribute to unemployment and general economic malaise.
  4. Anyone who currently has insurance but gets sick. This is a close call. There are some benefits to these people in that insurance companies will have to treat some of their ailments. But on the down side we all will suffer from the coming stagnation of medical technology.

The future of health insurance is predictable. Eventually everyone in the country will have the same health plan, there is no real insurance involved, and profits will be fixed, no doubt at a level higher than current profits. Health insurance premiums will rise and care will decline. Wealthy people will pay out of pocket and a new type of health insurance will start. This will be the health insurance you want to have to keep you from dying waiting for your healthcare.

I Need My MTV

November 19, 2009

As predicted, California has now banned the sale of big TV sets because “they use too much energy.”  This coming from the California Energy Commission whose job is to produce more energy. I guess, like President Obama, they see a kilowatt saved as a kilowatt produced (for Obama read kilowatt as job). The Energy Commission has overseen the complete dismantling of energy production in the state: nuclear power and oil drilling have been stopped, marginal electric rates have gone up by a factor of 4, gasoline is more expensive here than anywhere else, …

The press report on the ban, which I’m sure was just copied straight from CEC propaganda, gave a few actual facts: 6515 billion watt-hours per year of electric energy savings at a benefit of $8.1B/year in reduced electric bills. Doing simple division that says that electricity saving are taken at $1.25/KW-hr, which is 7 times the average rate for electricity and 3 times the marginal rate for residential customers (7 times for business customers). CAN”T ANYONE IN THE PRESS DO DIVISION??? Obviously this doesn’t make any sense. Going further, 6515 billion watt-hours/year requires a 750 MW power plant which the CEC claims will cost 8.7 billion dollars. The current cost for such a coal burning power plant (which are built in Wyoming and Montana for California consumption) is about $2B, about 1/4 the costs they claim. Again, this computation requires a little division and knowing what a gigawatt and a kilowatt are, so maybe it is asking too much for the press to actually figure out when someone is blowing smoke up their butts.

Some of the comments of yahoo readers are much more interesting than the story. All the readers are against the ban and see it as an overreach by an ever increasing fascist/socialist government. [For those who think there is a difference between fascism and socialism, there isn’t.]  One reader wrote:

78 Posted by brenda25252 on Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:59PM EST

How long before they regulate how many TVs, computers, appliances, etc.? You’ll hear a knock at the door in the middle of the night…its the energy police operating an energy sting in your neighborhood. Can you say “big brother”?

Brenda: this has happened already. The California Air Resources Board has instituted a winter spare the air program in which fireplace police drive around neighborhoods sniffing for people who are using their fireplaces to heat their home. They will knock on your door and if you don’t answer or don’t let them in they will give you a ticket for using that fireplace. You must show up to court to defend yourself – you are guilty unless you can prove your innocence. Repeat offenders can be sent to jail.  Also, PG&E is now installing new “smart” meters that will, soon, be able to measure things like your using of appliances and computers and most air conditioning, so they won’t even have to knock on your door to figure out what you’re doing late at night.

Now the most ironic but uncovered point of this whole story is that while the CEC wants to save a few watts by banning TVs, they are promoting ELECTRIC CARS!!  A typical electric car requires 0.25 KW-hr/mile. Assuming by banning TVs you save 100 Watts/household for 8 hours a day, that corresponds to 0.8 KW-hr/day or 3.2 miles of electric vehicle travel. If their dreams of an electric car come to fruition, the only TV we will be able to buy will be the ones built into our cars.

Sink That Slow Boat to China

November 6, 2009

I don’t like to predict things because I can’t really see into the future, but last year in one of my posts I predicted in passing:

My guess is that the first bill in Congress to make wind farms illegal will come from Democratic sponsors in the name of conservation.

Well looks like I was half right. The first opposition to a big ($1.5B) wind farm in Texas is by a Democrat, Chuck Schumer, who was ironically also the topic of that same post. Chuck didn’t, however, poo-poo the power plant because of conservation. He doesn’t like the fact that the turbines are going to be made in China. Believe it or not, I agree.

Buying toasters, toys, TVs, and telephones made in China is bad enough, but contracting major industrial projects to Chinese products and labor shows us only that we have lost leadership in almost all  things critical to a successful country. The useless “stimulus” spending the Feds are undertaking should at least help us build back our own industries, our own capabilities, our own future, not those of China.

This last week a piece of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge broke and fell onto traffic. The piece was a fix to a broken eye-span, critical to keeping the bridge from falling into the bay. This span of the old bridge is being replaced with a brand new bridge span that is supposed to look spiffy. I listened on the radio to a civil engineering professor from U.C. Berkeley who has been studying the bridge in detail since the earthquake of 1989 that shook lose a non-critical but still lethal section of the bridge deck. He said that the current fix to the bridge is not safe, it is just a C-clamp to keep the the eye-span from further deterioration. It is a race now, will they get the new bridge done before the old one collapses? Will Caltrans fix the old bridge properly? What does this have to do with China?

Turns out most of the steel in the new bridge is made in, you guessed it, China. I guess they were the low bidder. I hope this new bridge is going to hold up better than the current one.  According to the professor, chinese steel is known for being defective, subject to cracking, and he said that they have already found a couple of cracks in critical decking before it made it out of the factory, some 12,000 miles from California.

The professor mentioned another interesting characteristic of the new bridge design: the bridge deck is a critical element keeping the entire bridge structure together (unlike all the other bridges where the bridge deck is held up by the bridge structure). While the structure is built to withstand a really big earthquake (assuming the steel infrastructure doesn’t crack), it is not built to withstand a simple bomb. One bomb causing one big hole in the new bridge deck and the whole thing will collapse. The old bridge doesn’t suffer that problem. Caltrans answer to why this flaw exists? Terrorism was not an issue when the bridge was designed.

I hope Caltrans hires some good engineers from California to fix the old bridge properly so that it can be used just in case the new one gets hit.