Archive for the ‘news’ Category

A5

Ireland has been hit by an escalating series of flood in the last few months. Initially the flooding was preserved to coastal areas and caused by a combination of storm and high tides. Especially the West Coast was very badly hit with extensive damage to flood defences, piers, coastal roads and buildings in coastal areas. Especially Galway city and surrounding areas were very badly hit.

However in the last weeks the flooding has spread to built up floodplains. We have in recent days seen severe flooding in Galway, Limerick, Cork, Galway, Waterford and other cities and towns built around river floodplains and estuaries. What is shocking is the utter lack of preparedness or coordinated response. Ireland is known for its rain and this is not the first time we’ve seen flooding. After every previous flood a debate ensued about the need for flood defences but these were eventually never built or the ones built were based on the level of the last flooding rather than on the ones that would come next.

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Lacking preparedness one would at least expect some sort of adequate and coordinated response. After all there was no need to invent methods of dealing with floods. Our neighbours to the east, the UK, have been hit by far worse floods in recent years and have at least developed a semblance of a coordinated response. Or even look west to Boulder Colorado which was hit by severe floods last September with 8 people killed and 11,000 evacuated. A simple email or call to the organisations who responded to those floods would provide a wealth of information about how to initiate a coordinated response. The writing is on the wall really as the only data on flooding in Ireland is held on the OPW (Office of Public Works) website and the most recent data there is years old. It would have been so easy for one of the government agencies to crowdsource flooding data in realtime, something that agencies in other countries have embraced wholeheartedly.

A good example of such an effort is the Irish Flood Alert Crowdmap put up by Disaster Tech Lab (disclosure: I’m the founder of DTL). Such a map allows people to report the location of floods & flood damage and even to upload images. All this data will then be made publicly available in realtime.

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Instead Ireland is seeing a stream of nodding heads meeting in board rooms or visiting flooded areas without much idea on how to respond. The response is generally limited to throwing insufficient amounts to money at the problem while no effort is made to develop a resilient flood defence program…..

UPDATE: Disaster Tech Lab has put up a survey to measure the impact and awareness of the flooding and damage caused by storm Darwin. Please assist in improving future response by completing the survey.

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I received an interesting email this afternoon. It was from Mark Tighe a journalist with the Sunday Times. It read: “

Did you see the ads in the papers today from the HSE? They are finally going to destroy the heelprick samples older than 10 years.”

This brought me back to a blogpost I typed up just over 10 years ago. At the time it had been discovered that Temple Street hospital had been retaining the bloodsamples it had gathered through the “heelprick” tests. This had resulted ina n *illegal* database of genetic material of  everyone born in Ireland since 1984. It goes without saying that this is not only highly un-ethical but also illegal. You can read my blogpost on the topic here.

While I am pleased with today’s announcement it still raises a few questions. Apparently the screening programme was revised in 2011 and for anyone born after that date the parents have to give explicit permission for the sample to be retained. Additionally all samples will be destroyed after 10 years. The announcement also says that all samples taken between 1984 and 20o2 will be destroyed this year as they are over 10 years old. That still raises the question of the samples which were taken between 2002 and 2011 (when the programme was revised). These samples will apparently be illegally retained for another 1 to 8 years….

Another issue is that when I researched the matter three years ago evidence emerged that the retention of blood (and DNA) samples past the necessary period is allegedly commonplace in other hospitals and labs across the country. I have yet to see a follow up investigation to locate other hospitals where this practice is or has taken place.

Either way, it’s good to see that after three years some steps in the right direction are taken….

A lot has been written about the outcome of the US elections in the last 24 hours. Some good, some bad and some utter rubbish (by both sides). The most insightful one is a Facebook post by Bart Hall.

I’m connected to Bart via Facebook and have always enjoyed reading his postings. However this one was of such quality that I had to ask him if I could use it on my blog as a sort of guest-blog by proxy. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

So … the election was close, but the Electoral College worked exactly as intended by the Founders and produced a clear winner. Herewith, a series of observations, of various sorts, some slightly partisa:

a) Obama received fewer votes than McCain did in ’08. I expected this. What I did *NOT* expect was that Republican turn-out would be even lower this time around than last. The low Republican and Independent turn-out rendered useless the party-affiliation polling and certainly messed up my projection (-:

b) Elections don’t produce change, they measure it. In this case it’s become quite clear that an emerging majority of Americans prefer free stuff to freedom. Or framed somewhat differently (since I have a toddler at home) is that they prefer the freedom of a dependent child (“no worries”) to that of a mature and generally self-reliant adult (freedom of agency). Apart from the fact that it is fiscally unsustainable it is discouraging socially: deTocqueville in the late 1830s expressed his concern that the fatal flaw of American democracy was the risk that someday people would vote themselves lots of free stuff. That someday has evidently arrived in the last generation or so.

c) America is now on a trajectory to fiscal ruin. There is not enough wealth around to fix the blatant spending problem. I believe Romney and Ryan would at least have begun to address it. How bad is it? If Obama’s deficits continue at the levels *he* has projected we will have arrived at a point where each of the two previous Presidents *DOUBLED* existing debt in 8 years. The word for that, folks, is exponential explosion of debt, and it **always** ends in abundant grief and tears.

d) The good news is that Obama inherits the mess Obama left. He now owns it, absolutely. Burgeoning energy development on PRIVATE lands (which he can’t stop) will help the economy, some. EPA, OSHA, and ObamaCare … will not. But he owns it. We’re already seeing America’s energy boom bring back manufacturers to this nation. That will continue.

e) The people of Michigan, even as they voted Obama, voted for sanity and resoundingly defeated two ballot propositions that would have entrenched union power through mandated dues for all workers, and would have required 25% of all electricity to come from “renewables”. These the special interests attempted to enshrine in the state constitution.

f) Republicans picked up three more governorships (now 32), gained the state senate in Wisconsin, and took both houses of the Arkansas legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

g) Republicans not only held the US House of Representatives, they didn’t lose more than a seat or two, and might actually have picked up one. Recounts make it impossible to be precise, but the big picture is clear. The Tea Party gains of 2010 held. Some results are remarkable. Our KS-3 seat was won by a Democrat in 2008 by 18 points (his fifth term). A Tea Party Republican took the same seat in 2010 by 23 points, and in 2012 the Democrats never even put up a candidate. In eight or nine House elections nationwide the Libertarian came second to a Republican.

h) The Republicans have now thrown away *five* Senate seats in the last two elections by nominating idiot candidates, often with Democrat help. Three-way primaries will give the most extreme candidate a plurality, whilst the vote is split between two others with a better chance to win or hold the seat. Republicans would have the Senate today and the budgetary gridlock which has characterized the Senate for almost four years would no longer be a factor.

i) A big part of the reason idiot candidates on the Republican side are such a problem is that when they inevitably make their stupid statements it will be picked up and promulgated (repeatedly and loudly) nationwide by the old-line media, which are now clearly nothing more than Democrat political operatives with bylines. When the Donks nominate an idiot candidate … crickets. Pushing those old-line media even farther along their path of failure and irrelevancy should be a primary task of conservatives and libertarians.

Finally, we are in a period of great political instability. There is only one long-term sustainable political position in America, and it used to be shared by both parties –

1) Solid on defence and security issues.

2) Fiscally conservative and generally in favour of limited government.

3) Broadly libertarian on social issues.

Unfortunately it is for the most part currently shared by neither party and I suspect we shall all have to endure a great deal of trouble and grief before we get back to that point. As this election has made obvious, we won’t do it voluntarily. Consequently we’ll need to be forced by circumstances, and as Churchill said “Americans always seem to do the right thing, but only at the last possible moment.” I hope so.

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I was at a gig this evening when an interesting tweet showed up in my timeline. It said “Major internet outages across America” and linked to a website displaying stats on global internet traffic. The stats for North America showed something odd. Several nodes were not responding, response times were up significantly, packet loss was up and consequently traffic was dipping big time. I thought at first that it might be due to hurricane Sandy but when I looked at the locations they were all over the USA. Weird…

 

I tweeted a few people in the US to see if they had any idea but nothing concrete came back. Some suggestions were made that the traffic drop might be due to lunchtime but that didn’t make sense to me. Especially as lunchtimes across the US are obviously spread out and also because lunchtimes would not cause excessive packet loss. So I decided to have a look at the stats for Europe. To my surprise the same thing was going on there:

 

Next were the global stats which showed the same story:

 

So there has been a substantial increase in response time and packet loss resulting in a big dip in internet traffic, across the globe AT THE SAME TIME…

That was a serious Whiskey Tango Foxtrot situation. So I had a look at the global stats for the last 30 days. These stats indeed confirmed what I described above but it also showed a few other interesting facts;

  • An even bigger blip had occurred around October 8-9.
  • There has been a steady increase in response times & packet loss since October 8th.

 

Now there might be perfectly harmless explanation for this but we are looking at a homogenous network across the global with components managed and owned by a mix of private and public sector organisations. To see a global trend in performance across the whole network for a prolonged time is something that raises questions. So I decided to run a quick search for other reports on this and stumbled across an article by ABC news. The article basically reported in a bit more detail what I outlined above. It reported that Youtube, Amazon, Google’s App Engine, Tumblr and other sites had been affected. However most interesting was that there was no explanation offered for what might have caused this degradation.

I will keep digging..

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A tribute to coffee….

Posted: October 4, 2012 in news
Tags:

Obama-don’t-care….

Posted: October 4, 2012 in news
Tags: , , , ,

As a tribute to yesterdays US presidential debate (which Romney won hands down) I want to share this video with you. Be careful, Obama is mesmerizing in his performance…

It’s been only 48 hours since I wrote my blogpost on how to track a “troll” online. The blogpost itself was inspired by Leo Traynors story how online trolling and harrasment crossed over into real life and how he managed to find his tormentor. Since then I’ve had several thousand hits on that particular blog-post and have received phonecalls and emails from different media-outlets with questions on this topic. It’s obviously a hot issue…

My blogpost was not meant to serve as a manual on how to track someone online but was more as an insight that, yes indeed, you can legally track someone online and find out their identity and/or location. It was however also meant to serve as a warning of sorts on how much private information people put online using various social networks. This second issue needs elaborating on in my opinion as it’s an often ignored issue or at least one that elicits a lot of ignorant commenting.

First rule of online privacy: DON’T PUT ANYTHING ONLINE THAT YOU WOULDN’T SAY TO A COMPLETE STRANGER!

The above is the simplest but most effective rule; don’t make any comments about someone online that you wouldn’t say to their face and don’t put any images online which you want to keep private.  Adhering to that rule will save you a lot of trouble. Also remember that anything online, once it is indexed by Google, will stay accessible online forever. That’s right, Google caches every website that it indexes. That means that there will be a publicly accessible copy of that content on a Google server. Google will in certain instances remove content from its servers but rarely because the content is offensive or untrue and this is even less likely if you are not the owner of the website. So getting content which you put on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook and have since removed to be also removed from Googles cache is as good as impossible. The point is to *not* put said content online in the first place.

Second rule of online privacy: USE YOUR PRIVACY SETTINGS!

Most social networks have privacy settings. USE THEM. Even Twitter let’s you protect your tweets by setting your account as private or just straightforward block people. Note: Not a lot of people realize that if they block someone on Twitter that the blocked person can still read their tweets when they run a search for them. The only way to really prevent someone from seeing your tweets is to protect them.

On Facebook you have a lot more flexibility in regards to your privacy settings. You can have one setting for who can see your details, another for who can see the images you upload and so on. It gives you multiple levels of control. USE THEM!  There is no reason why something that you put on Facebook should be seen by someone who you do not want to see it.

Third rule of online privacy: WHAT HAPPENS ON THE INTERNET STAYS ON THE INTERNET!

Yes that’s right; anything that is put up on the internet (websites, blogs, social media and *everything else*) stays on the Internet. Forever. The reason for this is Google. In order to be able to serve you with these fantastic search results Google uses software (so-called spiders) to index everything on the internet. Once they have indexed the content of a page Google stores a copy on their own servers. This process is called caching. So if you have put something online, once it’s indexed by Google (and this is done very quickly) it is there for all eternity. You can remove the content, delete the page and even format the server that it was one but it will still show up in Googles search results and these search results will link to a copy of the content in Googles “cache”.  Of course you can attempt to get Google to remove the content from its cache but this will eventually result in the need for legal action with a limit success rate. Not a lot of people have the energy or more likely the funds to go down this route.

So, should you put nothing at all online? While this is obviously the most foolproof route to protect yourself from embarrassment it is not necessary. You can still be a prolific social media user without exposing everything about yourself. Take my own case, I blog, have 200,000 tweets to my name, check in on Foursquare regularly and much, much more. However not *everything* I do finds its way online. If I go somewhere, or do something that is private I just refrain from tweeting about it and certainly don’t check-in while doing so.  By being such a prolific social media whore while leaving private matters out it also creates a case where one can’t see the forest for the trees.

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Like many people I have read Leo Traynors latest blogpost in which he tells about how online trolling lead to actual death threats made against him and his family IRL (In Real Life) as well as shocking and insulting artefacts being left on his doorstep. It makes for frightening reading and first right in to the ongoing debate about trolling. The story has gone viral and is picked up by the international media. What’s more it has generated a spin-off debate on the method used by Leo to locate the troll in question. He did this be having a friend use the IP addresses associated with offensive comments on his blog and tracing these IP addresses. A lot of ignorant comments are being made how this would not be possible without access to ISP records which can only be accessed with a warrant.

This is far from true.

An IP address, for those unfamiliar with it, is a numerical label assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. An IP address serves two principal functions: host or network interface identification and location addressing. This means that every device contacted to the Internet, and hence used to troll people, has an assigned IP address. It used to be that almost all IP address assigned by IPS’s were done so on a dynamic basis. This meant that a user was assigned a new IP address every time they connected to the Internet. This was done because an IPS’s network assets could not handle all users at the same time so they had to rotate IP addressed between users. However ISP’s have increased their assets and most people have been assigned semi-permanent IP addressed by their provider. This means that in the majority of cases an IP address will point to an individual or a specific location. This information is used in lots of ways by popular web services. Take for instance Foursquare, this geo-location service will determine your location even if you use it on a  device without built-in GPS. It does simply by using your IP address and related information. Some websites also use your IP address to provide you with location specific information. Just think of the various online shops such as Amazon who determine your location solely by your IP address. But your IP address can be used to find out a lot more detailed information about you.

Let me explain by using an example; It is very easy to retrieve IP addresses. Every comment left on a blog is tagged with the originating IP address. This can only be seen by the blog administrator. See the below image for an example.

The above image shows you a number of comments on my blog, there is a range of information but for now we’re only going to take the IP address. Once you have this you can go to one of the many online IP tracker services such as “IPTrackerOnline.com”, type in the IP address in question and hit ENTER. Within seconds you will have a wealth of information. It will show you the users Internet Provider, a fairly exact location, the map coordinates and a satellite view of their location. Plug the location into Google Streetview and it will give you the actual address. You can then put the address into Google to find out more details. (NOTE: this does not work in all cases but even a general location is a piece in the puzzle when tracking a troll).

The above method will give you a specific address or a “general area” of the person harassing you. Of course it is not foolproof and can be circumvented but as Leo Traynors example showed not everyone is devious enough to do so. In fact the majority of Internet trolls are either too stupid or arrogant to completely hide their identity or location. Another method is looking for IP addresses connected with discussion forum postings. A lot of forums will include the posters IP address in their message so with a bit of luck you will be able to find out more about the trolls online habits. In the past I have come across people posting trolling/harassment spam from the same IP address that they used when engaging in professional discussions online.

Every bit if information gathered using the above method can then be cross-referenced with other databases leading to a wealth of information and quite often a very detailed profile of someone including personal & professional information as well as relevant locations.

So by taking this simple set of numbers which follows people online like a trail of breadcrumbs you can not only find out their location but you can also trace their name as well as find a lot of personal details. Enough to give you some tools to work with when trying to shut a troll up. And all of this is public information that can be legally obtained and which does *not* require any warrants.

Note: I am not an IT security professional, blackhat hacker or anything like that. I do however have about 17 years of IT/networking experience and have on quite a few occasions helped people track down someone who was harassing them or someone close to them online.  The above method is not 100% watertight but it works in most cases and is perfectly legal.

UPDATE: In response to numerous request received I have put up a guide to “Safer Surfing”.

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There was a lot of publicity a few months ago when the contract to provide free public WiFi in parts of Dublin was put out to tender. As someone with a more than passing interest in that area I blogged about my opinion.

Anyway, things quieted down after the tender was announced and it sort of disappeared  from the news. So much that last week I wondered what had happened and asked around to find out if the contract had been awarded and if so to whom. I fairly quickly found out that the tender had indeed been awarded to the Spanish company Gowex late last month. In itself that’s a good thing as Gowex has a wealth of experience in this area and a good reputation. However what did surprise me is the total absence of any mention of this in the Irish (or other) media. All I could find was a brief mention on the website “Spanish Business“.

 

It’s strange that not even Dublin City Council has issued a press release about something that was given so much publicity previously. One could be forgiven to expect that it being the silly season for news that at least one news publication or website would have had a few column inches to spare for this news but three weeks after the date nothing has been published so far…

 

 

In honour of todays big announcement by CERN I think it’s time for some nerd/science jokes:

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