Current Events

Hurricane Katrina - Two Years Later

Submitted by jbreland on Sun, 08/05/2007 - 02:38

Time Magazine has published a very interesting article in it's August 13, 2007 edition entitled, "The Threatening Storm." It provides a detailed look a defensive reconstruction plans and efforts since the storm, and, as expected for the area, investigates many of the absurdities and political ties of the plans. It's a fascinating read.

The full article can be found here:,28804,1646611_1646683_1648904,00.html

For convenience, here's the printable version that contains the full article on a single page:,29239,1646611_1646683_1648904,00.html

Also, in semi-related news that only present or former residents of New Orleans would like care about, I just found out that a completely new Twin Span bridge is being constructed. This bridge, part of a heavily used corridor of Interstate 10, connects Slidell to New Orleans East across Lake Pontchartrain. It was heavily damaged during Katrina, and though all four lanes have since been reopened, the westbound bridge is still utilizing temporary steel bridge spans to "fill in the gaps" where the cement spans were dislodged and destroyed, limiting traffic to only 45 MPH.

The new bridges will be a vast improvement over the current spans. They'll feature three lanes of traffic each (up from the current two-lane bottleneck) and will be set 30 ft. above the water level (up from the current 8 ft.). I know I'm a bit slow on the uptake here as initial construction apparently began on July 13, 2006 (according to the Wikipedia article, but I only just found out about it after seeing the new construction during my last trip to New Orleans.

The new eastbound bridge will be complete by 2009, with the westbound bridge following in 2011. Very cool.

Complete details can be found here:

And finally, in semi-semi-related news that even fewer people will care about, the "Green Bridge" in St. Bernard Parish apparently has its own Wikipedia page:

I know, this is a largely useless addendum, but I was oddly excited to come across that entry and just felt like sharing. :-)

Airline Security

Submitted by jbreland on Fri, 07/27/2007 - 13:45

I usually refrain from posting about such stuff on my site, mostly because I tend to work myself up into a rant and I just don't have the time and energy to deal with that these days, but this was a really good read. While responding to a question about a certain aspect of airline security, a pilot provided his thoughts on the industry as a whole. This is a very insightful point of view, and covers a lot of what's just plain wrong with the state of affairs today.

I highly encourage anyone interested in this sort of stuff (and if you ever have reason to fly on a plane, you should be interested) to read the full article. It only takes a few minutes.

(as found on Bruce Schneier's blog)

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How DRM Becomes Law

Submitted by jbreland on Fri, 07/13/2007 - 09:42

This is just a quick post about an article I recently read. Cory Doctorow (of Boing Boing, among others) has written a pretty insightful article for Information Week on "...the back room dealing that allowed entertainment companies and electronics companies to craft public policy on digital rights management." It manages to be insightful, disturbing, and disgusting all at the same time, and is worth a read if you're interested in how DRM comes to be.

Here's a small excerpt from the article:

Then the MPAA dropped the other shoe: the sole criterion for inclusion on the list would be the approval of one of its member-companies, or a quorum of broadcasters. In other words, the Broadcast Flag wouldn't be an "objective standard," describing the technical means by which video would be locked away -- it would be purely subjective, up to the whim of the studios. You could have the best product in the world, and they wouldn't approve it if your business-development guys hadn't bought enough drinks for their business-development guys at a CES party.

You can read the full article here:

or, you can find the much friendlier single-page version here:

Man demands that book about book-burning be banned -- during Banned Books Week

Submitted by jbreland on Fri, 10/06/2006 - 10:34

Via Boing Boing:

"Last week, a 15-year-old girl at Caney Creek High School (near Houston) complained to her father [Alton Verm] about "bad language" in Ray Bradbury's classic SF novel Fahrenheit 451. Dad complained to the district and pushed for the book -- which tells the story of a man in a futuristic, totalitarian society whose job is to burn unapproved literature -- to be removed from the curriculum. As the icing on the cake, his request came during the last week of September, which just happens to be the American Library Association's Banned Books Week."

Best line in the article: "It's just all kinds of filth," said Alton Verm, adding that he had not read 'Fahrenheit 451'.

And as a bonus (also found on Boing Boing), here's some helpful family planning advice.

Yearly Database Self-Examination

Submitted by jbreland on Fri, 09/22/2006 - 16:49

I just came across a really useful post on security/privacy blog 27B Stroke 6 discussing various resources available to check what data companies may have and sell about you, as well as how to opt out of some such schemes. I recommend checking out the full article, but in the interest of saving time I'm posting the major points below.

  • If you have ever applied for health, life or disability insurance on your own, it's likely the information about your health and lifestyle that you had to provide ended up in a database run by the MIB Group. The easiest way to check your record is by phone at 866.692.6901. The group will then mail you your report if they have one.
  • ChoicePoint, the folks who sold 145,000 data reports to Nigerian identity theft scammers in 2004, sells auto and home-insurance risk scores (among other things) and you can check your file for free once a year via their web page
  • ChexSystems keeps tabs individual's banking habits and sells that data to banks vetting new customers. Give them a call at 800.428.9623. They also run a system that keeps track of people who have reportedly passed a bad check. Track down that report here or make their phone jingle with this number: 800.262.7771.
  • Acxiom, another big data broker, will let you opt-out of their marketing database for free if you call 501-342-2722 and press 5. You can also ask them to send you a form that lets you check the non-marketing information they have on you. They won't let you opt-out of this, and they will charge you $5 for the privilege. Be aware it could take them months to send out the report.
  • Stop some direct mail via the Direct Marketing Association's web page. It's free if you print it out and mail it in to them for hand processing, but costs $5 if you just want to do it online. That's how much they like this opt-out list. DO NOT join the DMA's phone or email opt-out list. That's just begging for spam and telemarketing calls.
  • Stop almost all credit card and life insurance direct mail solicitations (this won't stop ones from your own bank) by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
  • And of course, the ever handy Do Not Call list is here.

Full link:

Liar, Liar, and Pretexting

Submitted by jbreland on Tue, 09/19/2006 - 15:47

SecurityFocus Mark Rasch has written a great article concerning the , including consumer protection laws, deception, fraud, and spyware. From the article:

Not only does the GLBA only cover a narrow scope of records, it also has some exclusions which are, well bizarre. It excludes law enforcement agents acting within the scope of their duties. This suggests that if the cops want your financial records, rather than going down the hall to the prosecutor to get a subpoena (or issuing an administrative subpoena, getting a search warrant, a FISA warrant, a FISA order, a National Security Letter, the consent of the bank, or any of the myriad legal ways to get your information) it would be permissible for the cops to simply call the bank, pretend to be you (or anyone else) and trick the bank into ponying up your records. Pretty cool. And if you challenge the legality of the search as a violation of your privacy, a court might very well conclude that these records about you aren?t your records, but rather records of the financial institution. Therefore, even if the search is unreasonable, you don?t have what the law terms standing to challenge it. Lovely.

Full link:

What the Terrorists Want

Submitted by jbreland on Fri, 09/15/2006 - 11:29

Bruce Scheier has a great article in his latest Crypto-Gram Newsletter entitled What the Terrorists Want." His basic point is that the point of terrorism is to cause terror, and in this the terrorists have succeeded:

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets, or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

The entire article is well worth reading. Full link:

Copyright and Intellectual Property

Submitted by jbreland on Wed, 09/13/2006 - 16:44

I just read two good articles on intellectual property and copyright law, both written by Cory Doctorow (editer of and co-editor of Boing Boing).

The first article, published on Locus Online, discusses this history of copyright law, why it originally came to be, and how it fails when applied to end-users. The second article, published by the USC newspaper Daily Trojan, discusses a recent letter sent by USC administration to all returning students that declares all filesharing and P2P network use as illegal. It presents a solid argument as to why this is not true, providing examples and historical context to back up his points.

Both articles are very interesting and poignant in today's society, and I recommend taking some time out your day to read them.

Full links:

"If you haven't done anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about."

Submitted by jbreland on Sun, 09/10/2006 - 21:16

"If you haven't done anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about," seems to be a answer response these days to concerns about loss of privacy and personal rights in an age of ever-expanding surveillance. Needless to say, this is an absurd and shameful argument. Of course I have something to worry about. Everyone does. To quote Bruce Scheier from a recent article:

Cardinal Richelieu understood the value of surveillance when he famously said, "If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged." Watch someone long enough, and you'll find something to arrest -- or just blackmail -- with. Privacy is important because without it, surveillance information will be abused: to peep, to sell to marketers and to spy on political enemies -- whoever they happen to be at the time.

Privacy is a fundamental human right, one which can not and must not be surrendered. The next time you here this statement, consider these responses:

Some of my favorites:

  • If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me.
  • Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition.
  • Because you might do something wrong with my information.
  • Mind if I make a video of you [making love to] your wife then?
  • So you trust the government completely? Not just this administration, but all of them? You trusted Nixon?
  • Yeah..., isn't that what Stalin used to say?
  • "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." -- Benjamin Franklin

You get the idea.