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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

Is there any chance that you can spot the nonsense there?

I am starting to detect a whiff of nonsense, now that you mention it. Maybe it's the fact that you're conflating "not doing exactly what cold fjord would do" with "taking no action" or just total bullshit like this:

Refusing to capture and interrogate terrorists provides just as much information as capturing and interrogating them.

I must have missed the announcement that President Obama had decided to stop all capture and interrogation of terrorists. Or wait, did you really mean that there was a case when you disagreed with him on a particular policy about capturing and interrogating a certain set of people under certain circumstances? Because that would sound a lot more like a rational argument and a lot less like ridiculous hyperbole and demonization of people who don't agree with your policy preferences. But we can't have that.

Pentagon Set to Slash Military to Pre-World War II Levels

OK, so since this is what you posted in response to my "what should we be doing" question, I assume that you think that the best use of resources to fight small groups of well-hidden off-the-grid terrorists is to increase the size of our standing army (measured in "number of troops" and not some other metric), build more amphibious assault vehicles, keep the A-10, upgrade the F-18, buy an extra 20 littoral combat ships, etc. The implication being that without those sorts of tools, we're going to have a hard time fighting these guys. This is what I mean by "stupid policy reaction" to scary bad guys. Buying a bunch of big iron weapons and building up the size of the standing army to root out terrorists seems like one of the least efficient and most knee-jerk ways of spending money to stop terrorists.

A giant ass military is great if your goal is to destroy the war fighting infrastructure of an enemy nation or to convince the median citizen of that country that waging war against us is a bad idea. But a giant ass military has historically proved to be not a particularly great tool at convincing the tail members of the political distribution to stop fighting a guerrilla war. In fact, it also seems like it has historically not been a great tool even for fighting those remaining stragglers. Unless you're going to do it Roman style and starting exterminating citizens and sowing their fields with salt until the terrorists stop, I don't think that more combat ships and armored fighting vehicles are going to do us much good on this one.

DOD is great for the 1% of Americans involved with the military. Unfortunately that doesn't do much for the other 99%.

So your position is that even though we've known about plague as a weapon for centuries, and even though we saw it used in World War II by the Japanese, and even though we put tons of R&D money into germ warfare scenarios throughout the Cold War, the government never bothered to come up with any sort of mitigation plan for a bio attack on the US that did anything other than take care of the military? And now that we know about this Laptop of Doom, Obama is derelict in not correcting that colossal oversight? That's a multi-generational failure of epic proportions. Surely the only thing that will fix this is more boots on the ground.

There are plenty of groups associated with al Qaida and ISIS. The fact that one is doing that says nothing about what another has been able to do.

Indeed. And if only we had the budget to build a few more submarines and armored fighting vehicles, we might know so much more. Damn you Obama!

yesterday
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

Is the public reaction generally panic? I don't think so.

You're right. I should rephrase. The median member of the public doesn't panic but enough of the public is swayed to allow stupid panic responses and bad public policy from people in government.

We should continue to secure all sorts of nuclear related materials, as we have been, to prevent dirty bomb attacks, or the theft or illegal sale of fissionable material.

Yup. That sounds like a very reasonable set of policies that we're already doing and should continue to do. I don't think many people would argue with you on that. But the tenor of the discussion I'm hearing here implies that this laptop is some sort of a revelation and that we should really do something different.

When people say we're "doing nothing" what they really seem to mean is that we're doing nothing that we weren't already doing. That may be true (the "doing nothing" claim certainly isn't), but that may or may not be a bad thing. Maybe what we're already doing puts us roughly in the sweet spot for cost/benefit. I haven't seen a lot of evidence that we're way off base as it is.

Requiring emergency shelters in new construction of various type of buildings as some countries do wouldn't add much to the cost and could pay off in many different disaster or attack scenarios.

That's an interesting thought. What are other countries doing, and what are the costs and benefits? Israel is the only one I can think of, but I'm not very familiar with their measures, and their needs are rather specialized.

Just 9-11 resulted in $100,000,000,000 in damage to the US economy.

And many, many times that in public response (wars, additional public safety spending, etc.). So as bad as 9-11 was, we're easily able to do a lot of harm to ourselves if we don't prioritize our use of resources. If we're thinking about ways to save literally thousands of lives per decade and we have a few hundred billion dollars to play with make that happen, there are a lot of options.

2 days ago
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

Those documents are on science, physics, chemistry, and engineering. They aren't bomb making instructions, they're the science behind the instructions - and thus it doesn't matter what the bomb making experience of the writers are. It's a critical difference and one you seem determined to remain blind to.

Have you ever actually tried to do a serious engineering project from scratch based only on what's in the published literature in any field without consulting somebody who had actually done it? It's actually really hard. The devil is always in the details, and there's usually a shitton of details, a lot of which get you killed when you're fiddling around and finding them when the project is a bomb, a poison, or a disease. I'm not denying the existence of the theoretical basis for those weapons or even that there's lots of useful theory available. I'm denying that most people, even the ones who study the theoretical framework pretty deeply, would do a halfway competent job at making them. Rockets for getting into space are a really good example. The fundamental principles are straightforward and the engineering concepts are well documented and easy to grasp, but every new design is really hard and requires a lot of testing because there are a million important technical decisions to be made along the way that can't easily be derived from first principles.

In a field like weapons, it's also difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff because there aren't nearly as many sources that are clearly reliable. You often have to choose from one technical document of dubious origin from the web versus another similarly shady document and evaluate them from first principles, which requires a pretty good grounding in the field and often a lot of luck. If you know the field, it's often easy to spot when somebody makes a conceptual mistake. But what about experimental results? When one paper says that material X works really well and another says that it failed dangerously and the only way to know is to build a prototype and do the test, which one do you believe? It's usually nice to have somebody around who can say, "Yeah, we tried that and it didn't work. Cost us $3M and now Joe is missing a hand. Do it the other way."

I'm not saying it's impossible, but these guys have a long slog ahead of them. They're doing this stuff from first principles and they don't have the advantage of big budgets and rooms full of really smart people. They have sporadic budgets and rooms with a smart person or two surrounded by a bunch of overeager morons, which isn't exactly the team I'd want to assemble for something like this. The idea that they're on the brink of a devastating weapon that nobody in the DoD thought to prepare for during the Cold War when we had the entire Soviet weapons program working on it seems like a stretch. For me, the "revalation" that these guys want bio weapons and they have freely available information on biology and chemistry is more of a, "Yeah, I kind of figured," than an, "Oh shit! Really? This changes everything!"

2 days ago
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

You ask and answer your own question - the important steps to deal with this sort of threat should have been taken long ago.

I'm not sure I read an answer in either of our posts. What, specifically, are we not doing that we should be doing based on this new information? We've known about bubonic plague as a biological agent for centuries, we had a world war when it was used as a weapon, and we had a whole cold war during which both sides looked at bubonic plague as a weapon, so it would be kind of surprising if the DOD ignored the whole thing for all those years and should start scrambling now that some guys playing solider in homebrew camps are thinking about it. It doesn't make sense unless your theory is that Evil President Obama is intentionally dismantling any programs we may have had in order to make terrorist domination of the world easy, twirling his mustache all the way.

Well, that's assuming they didn't make off with any of the biological weapons developed by Saddam (and there were some) or by Syria where ISIS controls considerable territory...

I suspect not, given that they appear to be trying to get it from dead animals at the moment. That would be bad, but again, what should we be doing differently assuming it's true?

And the general public isn't really vaccinated against many of those agents, are they?

The wouldn't be vaccinated at all against bubonic plague. My understanding is that it's a "treat with antibiotics after exposure" type of thing. And we have and produce lots of antibiotics, many of which I remember us ramping up production on post 9/11.

You seem to be speculating that Obama is doing things to actively undermine any defenses we have based on... I'm not sure what exactly. This seems to be part of the "bizarro world" theory that people have about political opponents. They think, "I'm against policy X and they're for policy X" means that the other guy is their exact mirror image and end up with, "I'm for fighting terrorism, so he must be for enabling it." No actual evidence of policy disagreement or bad policy is necessary. It's just reasonable to assume that the other guy is making a hash of it because he's your opposite and you'd be doing everything right.

2 days ago
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

So those documents are based on first hand knowledge and tested results and people who read them are likely to succeed at building the bombs, right? That's why the countries that have done it recently just pulled those docs off of the Internet instead of hiring experts and spending tons of cash on expensive R&D programs which often failed the first few times anyway, right? Or are these documents written up by people with physics and engineering expertise who pieced the knowhow together and have never actually built a working bomb?

Because my point is that there's a ton of "howto" stuff out there about all sorts of weapons / drugs / how to be a badass hitman and never get caught / whatever else the kids are into these days that's probably only 80% correct, is written by people who have never actually tried the stuff themselves, and will more likely than not get you killed if you try it as written. And I'm reasonably willing to bet that the "how to make yourself a bubonic plague weapon" documents are just like that. Good educated guesses by reasonably smart people who have done some reading but want stupid people to do things that they're too smart to try themselves.

I'd be a lot more concerned if somebody had written, "XX engineer from North Korea's weapons lab is known to be working with them," instead of, "They have the Anarchist's Cookbook! We're all doomed!"

2 days ago
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

So what are the policy implications? What do we do differently now that we know this? I mean, we've always been aware that they'd do something with bio weapons if they could. We also know that their capabilities are limited and that what we're really likely to see is a an attempt that may fizzle or may, if they're lucky, be moderately successful. Finally, we've always known that there's a short list of biological agents that amateurs with limited resources would likely deploy.

The bottom line is, is this really something that should alter our course, or is it just another entry in a very long list of difficult to stop bad things they would do to us if they had the chance but are unlikely to really succeed at without a spot of luck--things that we're already as well prepared for as we can reasonably be? Or is this particular thing so much more likely than any of the million other attack vectors that we should spend outsized resources on it?

2 days ago
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

So the question is, what are the policy implications? As far as I can tell, we're about as well prepared for a plague as we can reasonably be short of massive expenditure on serious emergency programs. We could go as far as buying everybody NBC suits, but that seems like it's way out of proportion.

We have a robust medical system with good antibiotics that's reasonably good at containing outbreaks knowledge of how to treat the plague, so what's next, and are the cost of that next thing justifiable given the real probability of a serious attack? If we put serious effort into defending against every conceivable tail risk that crazy people introduce, they could bankrupt us just by releasing Tom Clancy style whitepapers and never actually have to do a thing.

2 days ago
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

There's a difference between "being prepared" and "Oh, shit, let's panic!" When this stuff comes up, the public reaction is usually the latter. These guys aspire to all sorts of stuff and if even half of it were realistic they would have taken over the world by now. The reality is that their resources and competence don't match their aspirations and our policy responses should take that into consideration. Some nutbar in a cave announcing his intention to get hold of a hydrogen bomb and blow us all to hell should cause us to spot check the security of the known hydrogen bomb storage sites. It shouldn't cause us to start digging billion dollar fallout shelters under every major city or grounding airplanes whenever somebody uses the word "hydrogen."

3 days ago
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Islamic State "Laptop of Doom" Hints At Plots Including Bubonic Plague

Copid Re:But is it reaslistic? (360 comments)

I'd be a little more inclined to believe that the person who wrote the document was a real expert if there had been a known case of these guys actually producing a biological weapon. This sounds a whole lot more like people who have never built a biological weapon teaching other people who have never built a biologial weapon how to build a biological weapon. Lots of thought experiments being put on paper as instructions as if they were tried and true methods.

I can do a write up for how to build a nuclear bomb for my terrorist brothers based on my rudimentary undergraduate physics education, but there's no way in hell those instructions would actually produce anything useful.

3 days ago
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Drought Inspires a Boom In Pseudoscience, From Rain Machines To 'Water Witches'

Copid Re: A fool and their money (259 comments)

It would be interesting to see if drilling randomly in 3 other places on the property also generated water at around 70 feet. It could very well be that the property just sits on a lot of shallow water.

4 days ago
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Russian Military Forces Have Now Invaded Ukraine

Copid Re:Mr. President, the 80's called... (827 comments)

Containment and letting an economically fragile enemy overextend itself and collapse of its own accord? I'm down with that. Beats starting World War III.

4 days ago
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U.S. Senator: All Cops Should Wear Cameras

Copid Re:The death of leniency (611 comments)

That's the point. The best way to get people to figure out how many bad laws there are is to actually enforce them for a little while. Right now, those laws are around for poor unlucky bastards who the law decides to make an example of. They're not an issue for the rest of us. But they're there hanging over everybody. Enforcing the laws as written mercilessly enough that a few senators' kids end up getting picked up might encourage us to prune things back somewhat. A little less law, a little more order.

4 days ago
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U.S. Senator: All Cops Should Wear Cameras

Copid Re:I like... (611 comments)

I've always liked the idea of officers having to personally carry liability insurance. Bump their pay enough to cover the average liability insurance. Cops that behave badly and start to look risky to insurance carriers pay a personal cost. Insurance carriers would almost certainly add a "no coverage if your camera is off" clause to the policy pretty quickly. At minimum, carrying a camera would probably massively reduce your premiums. Turn the camera off and beat somebody up if you want to, but nobody has your back if it goes court and you're personally liable for damages.

4 days ago
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U.S. Senator: All Cops Should Wear Cameras

Copid Re:People like you... (611 comments)

That depends on how the footage is handled. Maybe it's only kept for a while, and then deleted if it isn't requested in any case.

That's how I'd run it. Video is stored away securely and only the relevant timeframes are retrieved if something goes to court or someone otherwise decides to make an issue of it. No bullshit like demanding a week's worth of video footage or having supervisors do spot checks. If a citizen complains or if a criminal case is filed, the relevant video is pulled. Anything more requires a court order.

All of this worry about cops going to the bathroom or political fishing expeditions can be resolved with decent storage and access policies.

4 days ago
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Solar Plant Sets Birds On Fire As They Fly Overhead

Copid Re:god dammit. (521 comments)

I think the logic is that if the variable we want to reduce is "number of birds killed" then there may be ways of reducing it more effectively that don't involve halting production of a really useful energy resource. There's *lots* of stuff humans do that kills birds. If birds are really the concern, our energy might be better spent elsewhere.

about two weeks ago
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Rightscorp's New Plan: Hijack Browsers Until Infingers Pay Up

Copid Re: Amost sounds like a good deal ... (376 comments)

This sort of makes the statement, "You can't prove a negative," break down into, "You can't prove something that can't be proved." Well, now that's out of the way.

about two weeks ago
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CIA Director Brennan Admits He Was Lying: CIA Really Did Spy On Congress

Copid Re:When will we... (266 comments)

Jail isn't going to do any good unless you put the whole agency in jail.

I don't know. You take few people who thought that their rule breaking would only get "the agency" as a whole in trouble and put those people in jail and some of the ones left over might start to take the rules more seriously.

about a month ago
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Vint Cerf on Why Programmers Don't Join the ACM

Copid Re:Expensive and irrelevant - don't think so (213 comments)

I let my IEEE membership lapse when I got tired of feeling like no matter how many sub-memberships I had, I almost never had access to the journal articles I wanted. "Oh, you're a member of the Signal Processing Society. You'd need to be a member of the Society of Signal Processing (Splitters!) to get that article." It was starting to feel like this.

about a month ago
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Comcast Confessions

Copid Re:Every single day (234 comments)

The trick is to keep the poeple in charge afraid of what the mob might do while not actually having the mob take over and run things. It's a tough balance to strike.

about a month ago
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Lawrence Krauss: Congress Is Trying To Defund Scientists At Energy Department

Copid Re:Price of using scientists as political pawns (342 comments)

OK, one more time. Can you state your position clearly? Because the best I can read is something like this:

Congress wanted to stimulate green technology growth so it approved a bunch of loans and had the DOE administer them. The DOE did so, losing money on some ventures (but far less than Congress allocated for expected losses on a program that wasn't supposed to be profitable) and ending up with something like 3% of their portfolio in failed ventures. Therefore, we should defund the science work that the DOE does.

There's a jump in there somewhere that I'm not fully following. I mean, I missed the part where the American way of life was destroyed, industries collapsed, and cats and dogs began to live together. But even if that was the case, why are we gutting the science funding again?

about a month ago

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