Monthly Archives: December 2009

Avaragado’s 2009 predictions – results

With the clock ticking down to the end of what Pacific Islanders are already calling last decade, it’s time to reveal the results of my 2009 predictions. I have again enlisted the assistance of the glamorous Chris Walsh to make the official adjudication. The next voice you hear in your head will be his.

Here are the scores on the doors miss ford, come on dollies do your dealing….

It looks just like my uncle Oscar

  • Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger [Still no reaction on winning from the ingrate, 1 POINT]
  • Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler [Went to SEAN PENN, Nil POINTS]
  • Best Supporting Actress: Taraji P Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [Nope, Penelope Cruz, Nil Points]
  • Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader [Nazis or nuns equal oscar success — 1 POINT]
  • Best Picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [Nope, it was SLUMDOG, NIL POINTS]
  • Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire [GOAL! 1 POINT]

TOTAL: 3 / 6

I’m glad you asked me that question, Jeremy

  • Peter Mandelson loses his job as Business Secretary. [Wikipedia says not only has he kept this post, he has had his powers “enhanced” (adamantium claws?) while also being appointed first secretary of state. Nil points]
  • Alistair Darling loses his job as Chancellor. [Nope, still there. Nil points]
  • Ed Balls becomes the new Chancellor. [Nope, Nil points]

TOTAL: 0 / 3

Wonderful World of Nature

  • Yellowstone does not explode and turn much of North America into (even more of) a wasteland. [Truth! 1 point. Was this ever anticipated though??? In other news, London was not devastated by a tidal wave of custard…]
  • A global flu pandemic starts. [True! This is a proper impressive prediction, so 2 points!]
  • There will be two earthquakes of magnitude 8 or above on the Richter scale. [Gah! Obsolete unit alert! Nobody uses the Richter scale anymore, apparently. It’s all “Moment Magnitude Scale” now. Well, Samoa was the worst earthquake of 2009 and that scored 8.3 on the Richter scale, which equates to 8.0 on the moment magnitude scale. 2009’s second largest earthquake was in Fiordland, with a moment magnitude of 7.8. But I can’t find anywhere that tells me what it scored on the Richter scale. It looks like it should be either just above or just below 8 exactly! I’m giving the benefit — 1 point!]

TOTAL: 4 / 3

Tedious Town of Tech

  • SCO finally throws in the towel. [Looks like they are still going, despite filing for liquidations??? Nil points]
  • Microsoft buys Palm to get the Pre. [Nope. Nil points]
  • A statement posted to Twitter causes a publicly traded company’s stock to drop dramatically. [Google didn’t throw up any likely stories, so I’m going Nil points. Looks like it’s the only thing Twitter didn’t do this year, after exposing Carter-Ruck/Trafigura and bitch-slapping Jan Moir]

TOTAL: 0 / 3

I’m 800, you know

  • Cambridge win the University Boat Race. [Nope. Nil points]
  • The Guided Bus does not fully open to paying customers this year. [Truth! 1 point]
  • In the 2009 May Bumps, Caius finishes first in the Men’s First Division. [Jeezuz, I couldn’t even understand the results page I found. Results to me means 2 numbers, where the bigger one is the winner. If I need a graph to understand the results, your sport is too complicated. Wikipedia says “1st & 3rd Trinity 2009 Head of the River” which means nothing to me, but this stupid sport has already wasted too much of my life … NIL POINTS!!!]

TOTAL: 1 / 3

Des or Dickie? Des, obviously

  • Usain Bolt takes the 100m world record to 9.60s +/- 0.02s [9.58! spot on! 1 point]
  • England is the only home nation to qualify for the football World Cup in South Africa in 2010. [Looks like it. 1 point]
  • Andy Murray loses in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon. [Loses yes, finals no — out in the semis. Nil points]
  • Australia retains the Ashes. [wiki says current champion England. Nil points]
  • Lewis Hamilton wins more grands prix than any other driver in the 2009 F1 season. [Lewis Hamilton won 2, Jenson Button 6. Nil points]
  • Felipe Massa is 2009 F1 world champion. [Massa hospitalised after Hungarian Grand Prix. Nil points]

TOTAL: 2 / 6

Celebrity Deathwatch

  • Patrick Swayze [dead! 1 point]
  • Margaret Thatcher [alive! Nil points]
  • Norman Wisdom [alive! Nil points]
  • Peter Sallis [alive! Nil points]
  • Steve Jobs [alive! Nil points]
  • Britney Spears [alive! Nil points]

TOTAL: 1 / 6

FINAL SCORE: 11 / 30

And this is me again. I have returned Chris to his childproof box until this time next year. I especially liked that he had to look at Wikipedia to find out whether I’d got the Ashes question right or not; that takes impressive dedication to sporting ignorance.

I impressed myself with a couple of correct predictions: the flu pandemic, the unopened guided bus (which was supposed to start service no later than September, I think, when I made the forecast) and Usain Bolt’s incredible world record. Some others were naturally massively wrong: the Formula 1 stuff for instance. The political predictions were nearly right, since there was a moment when it looked as if Darling was out. And if only I’d gone for a different pop star/nutcase in the deathwatch. Ah well.

I still haven’t thought of any 2010 predictions yet. But I’m sure I will at some point.

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GSM and holes in the ground

Exciting news from the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin this week: the A5/1 stream cipher meant to ensure privacy on GSM mobile phone calls has been weakened. Security researcher Karsten Nohl and his team have created an attack table – two terabytes of it – so you can look stuff up rather than be forced to calculate it yourself. They’ve saved processing time at the expense of memory. You can see the gory details in Nohl’s 26C3 presentation.

This kind of thing is not a surprise to anyone interested in security systems: a given system never becomes more secure, only less secure. New attacks and weaknesses are found. Supposedly secret keys turn out to be not-so-secret. No amount of pixie dust or PR can change this. For those designing security systems the game is to stay one step ahead of the attackers, to be Road Runner against Wile E Coyote.

But there’s a third player in the security game. Alongside our meep-meeping hero and Acme’s best customer (a black-hat hacker) is the white-hat hacker. His job is to find Road Runner’s vulnerabilities before Coyote does: because that way Road Runner can introduce effective countermeasures before Coyote can do any damage. White-hat hackers are needed in part because, as security guru Bruce Schneier says, anyone can create a security system they cannot themselves break. You need some attackers on your side to point and laugh when you make a basic error, because the black-hat hackers won’t be so kind.

In this case, Nohl’s team are wearing white hats: they’re the good guys. And don’t forget that Nohl’s team might not be first. We don’t know. Suitably savvy crooks might have already exploited the weaknesses in A5/1.

An appropriate response from the GSM Association – the mobile operators and hangers-on who promote GSM – would have been: “Yes, this was always going to happen at some point. That’s why we’re doing blah blah blah,” where the blahs would describe some change that strengthens the system. That would give people confidence that the association were thinking ahead, working to improve security.

But when I heard the news of this new attack I laughed. I knew what the response would be. The GSM Association would find the nearest hole and wedge its head firmly inside, while issuing pooh-pooh PR from its prominent buttocks. And that is precisely what has come to pass.

A spoke tells us, “We consider this research, which appears to be motivated in part by commercial considerations, to be a long way from being a practical attack on GSM.” Pooh! “To [develop this attack] while supposedly being concerned about privacy is beyond me.” Pooh! Nohl’s activity was “highly illegal.” Pooh!

Let’s take those points in order:

  1. What’s impractical now will be practical soon: it’s the way technology works. If you wait until it’s a practical attack you’ll be too late. The GSM Association are probably just hoping that GSM will die before this happens.
  2. Nohl’s team call GSM “the most widely deployed privacy threat on the planet” and don’t believe the GSM Association is taking its weaknesses seriously. That sounds like concern about privacy to me.
  3. Cretins. White-hat hackers must use black-hat methods or it’s game over.

But, you say, Nohl could have taken his attack to the GSM Association privately. I don’t think this would have had any effect. From his presentation it seems as if they were well aware of his work, and the default behaviour of associations like this when presented with undesirable information tends to be to either ignore it or try to suppress it. The unfortunate truth is that it is only through transparency that anything changes. See also: MPs’ expenses.

Surely, you continue, the GSM Association contains some people who aren’t dumb. They must know that security systems get broken all the time. Of course they do. In fact they were perfectly capable of issuing the response I suggested above because a stronger replacement cipher is available, KASUMI or A5/3, that I believe handsets already support. (Nohl’s presentation suggests A5/3 has weaknesses of its own, but let’s not go there.)

This new cipher isn’t in widespread use simply because not all operators have upgraded their systems; they’re trading off the increase in security against the expense of upgrading.

I’m guessing this was not a message the operator-packed GSM Association wanted to send out in their condemnation of Nohl’s work.

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Happy Limbo Week!

Ah, Limbo Week! I think I look forward to December 27-30 more than I look forward to the days they follow and precede. I like seeing family again and the traditions of Christmas and New Year, but there’s only so much Radio 2 I can listen to before I commit ritual tinsel-based suicide (seppuklaus in the original Japanese). Limbo Week is what it’s all about.

It begins with The Return Home, wherein lie my own Things and Routines. I’m not saying I’m aspergic but, you know, that goes there. I don’t lay awake at night or anything. Well, I do, but not because of misplaced bric-a-brac. Bric-a-brac has its own designated area where it may roam free and unworried. It just needs herding every now and then, using the official herding device and following the appropriate procedures for the time of year (FX: looks down at shoes and mumbles inaudibly).

This particular week’s activities include the extra-special Schrödinger’s Tax Return. HMRC has told me this year both that I need to fill in a tax return, and also that I don’t. Task one is to Make An Observation and if necessary, stamp on a kitten. I think that’s how it works. I wonder what random number will pop up on the HMRC cash register this time.

One of the first events of the week is the Post-Christmas Shop, in which I avoid The Bewildered, The Sales Whores and The Shattered Staff. Sadly this year I won’t be able to experience the Borders Come-Down as we’ve had the Borders Close-Down instead. I’ll have to not-buy books elsewhere now. Look out Waterstones, your days are numbered.

In Limbo Week I also like to Hang Out With Friends, not that I would ever use the phrase “hang out”. It’s just about the only week in the calendar in which there’s a fair chance your mates are also off work. It’s Adult School Holiday. We can congregate at the mall and stage improvised musical numbers. Or, alternatively, drink.

And then comes New Year’s Eve, the logical Sunday of Limbo Week. A time to score last year’s predictions and come up with any old rubbish for the year ahead. I haven’t given them a moment’s thought yet. Plenty of time. Any suggestions?

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In my capacity as official photographer

I present the highlights of two recent evenings: last Wednesday evening, with my current work colleagues; and last Saturday evening, with the Exsquiddy mob.

Rejoice that many of the photos are in focus, and some were taken by others. Those sets are not, however, identical. Let me make that quite clear.

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