* Posts by Dave Harris

6 posts • joined 23 Jul 2007

GCHQ: Mastering the Media

Dave Harris

GCHQ? Who's that?

IIRC, the place hasn't been called GCHQ for years (if it ever officially was) although I've forgotten the "correct" name for it.

Whilst their statement is almost certainly excruciatingly correct, the devil, as usual, is in the details: What exactly constitutes damage to the UK or its "economic interests"? As an example, leaving aside, for the moment, questions of the legality of the activity, does this include pirating of movies or music? As you so correctly point out, they are not aiming to monitor *everyone*, just *anyone*. whenever they want. And if they happen to latch on to something they deem interesting and within their (gargantuan and ill-defined) remit whilst searching for something else, why then, it behoves them to look at it, right?

GCHQ has, for years, been a master of finding every tiny chink in the legislation which governs its behaviour and exploiting them to do exactly what its "customers" want, often without anyone else knowing about it. This is possible because of the nature of the classifications it applies to most of what it does. You can bet your life that the various Commissioners etc who are supposed to oversee its operations aren't on the lists whose codewords are part of the classification of the most questionable documents and information. And will, therefore, never even get to know they exist.

Of course, the place does do useful work and, to be fair, finding the right balance between accountability (and lost laptops) and the secrecy required for operational usefulness is never going to be easy.

The clever/professional crooks/terrorists/etc will just (multiple) encrypt stuff & use proxies etc, thus leaving the spooks blind to what they're doing anyway.

US WMD report: Dirty bombs, chem weapons are bunk

Dave Harris

Only partially bullshit

Recreating the smallpox virus is highly unlikely - although at the current rate of progress that may arrive on the menu sooner than we'd like. However, looking at what is currently being achieved in engineering viruses, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if a virus-based weapon could be made by terrorists within 5 years. Delivering it could be horribly easy, depending on how it spread.

We're not talking about a bunch of amateurs in a back street lab: some of these people are well qualified to do the work and have enough financial backing to buy the equipment they need. Add to that a "rogue state" happy to allow them lab space and the outlook does not look good.

I suspect that although a terrorist may try & construct a nuclear bomb, it's quite likely to malfunction and turn into a "dirty bomb" as it's primary explosive (and possibly primary A-bomb) spread radioactive material over a wide area. The engineering required to make one of those buggers work is vastly more sophisticated and difficult than the so-called underground press would have you believe. Even US & UK military nuclear bombs are, apparently, pretty unreliable: one reason there are so many of them.

Retro piracy - Should the Royal Navy kick arse?

Dave Harris
IT Angle

Some half-truths & other opinions

I take it than when it's stated that a frigate can't keep up with a speedboat this is in line with the UK MoD's oft-stated lie that virtually all UK warships have a maximum speed of 28 knots, as stated in Jane's. Everyone knows what bollix this is. Although I never served with HM forces, I worked with them for many years and went to sea on warships. Let's just say that quite a few of them can display a rather surprising turn of speed. HMS Bristol (now sold off to the Indian navy I believe) wouldn't have needed weapons - she could have run down most speedboats, being a huge speedboat herself (0 - 30 knots in 14 seconds is serious stuff for a ship that size, and scary if you're standing at the stern rail when it does it!).

I agree with whoever said that pirates can be summarily dealt with at sea and personally I would be happy to see that happening. Although a 4.5" naval gun is a bit over-the-top to sink a speedboat, it is thorough :) Vulcan Phalanxes are pretty nifty too.

Small craft, especially wooden or inflatables, mostly don't show up on radar until you're virtually within visual range so a BVR weapon isn't much good, and the kind of choppers used on frigates etc are easily taken out by small arms fire. If you're going to start using small heli carriers for this job then the helis need to be (lightly) armoured, as do the carriers themselves. Don't think for one moment the pirates wouldn't try to attack them with shoulder launched missiles which the UK Marines have shown can be very effective in that role.

And as for why we do it, how about because it offends the British sense of Fair Play. Or because it's just plain wrong. Not to mention that if left alone, it will grow until it becomes a real problem and then much more difficult to eradicate.

US switches off the incandescent lightbulb

Dave Harris

They're not as black as they've been painted

LEDs will definitely be the way to go - there are a lot of products in the pipeline which haven't reached the shelves yet. But in the meantime, the CFL's aren't as black as they have been painted here. You can now get dimmable ones - at a price:


The mercury in the bulbs can be recycled - just don't dump them in the bin. In the UK at least, given that over the next 20 or 30 years unthinking chucking of stuff into a bin to go to landfill will stop (there is little more "away" left to throw things) then people will get used to sorting waste before collection & it'll become the norm.

I found a paper by the US EPA that said the amount of mercury (about 4mg) in an average CFL is less than that emitted into the atmosphere by a power station generating the extra power needed by an equivalent incandescent bulb. I suspect this may be true - coal-fired power stations certainly emit a lot of mercury and the US has a lot of those. But, as usual, without checking the facts in detail you either take such things on trust or not. Given the EPA's recent anti-global-warming stance, I'm more inclined to believe this one.

The better modern CFLs start up at about 75% of full brilliance & reach 100% within 1 minute. YMMV/Get used to it. They need to be on for at least 15 minutes to be efficient. Obviously for some applications this is not going to happen. For others, a culture change is needed - unless LED light sources get there first.

Measuring the relative brilliance: I used my old Weston Master V exposure meter and, yes, the CFL ratings on the boxes are optimistic (very variable - 1/4 to 1 stop). So you buy the next size up of CFL: it still saves energy. Perception is of course another thing - the different spectrum emitted by a CFL fools the eye/brain into thinking it's not as bright.

Mind you, if something rather more meaningful in terms of keeping global warming in check doesn't happen soon, this little discussion will become irrelevant...

Running queries on the HMRC database fiasco

Dave Harris

It should be possible to release at least some information on the file encryption...

... as it should be secure enough that, for all practical purposes, it wouldn't matter. But I doubt that it was. Hence they aren't saying or, more to the point, daren't. Not to mention WTH are they doing sending it on CD's at all? Have they really not heard of telecommunications?

MPack developer on automated infection kit

Dave Harris

Just creating ammunition?

What bullshit. These scum are, IMNSHO, directly responsible for huge amounts of misery - and in some cases suicides - worldwide. The money that they make comes indirectly from those victims. I sincerely hope they get caught - and then put up against a wall. It won't happen, but one can dream.


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