Alex's Tumblr

Website Buzz Twitter

Jul 31

Jul 30

Two questions regarding surveillance

Has NSA surveillance of US citizens prevented terrorist attacks? What harm has come from leaks about the NSA, from Edward Snowden and others?

I’m inclined to answer those questions with “No” and “None”, but I’m looking for more information.

Here are the answers to those questions, given by former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander on the PBS Newshour:

Judy Woodruff: Can you give us an example of a terrorist incident that was prevented because of this kind of work?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Absolutely, 2009, Najibullah Zazi.

Is this so? I have a couple of sources that say that it was mostly FBI and UK intelligence that led to Zazi being found. Is there information that I’m missing about how NSA programs such as PRISM contributed information that was essential to identifying Zazi?

And regarding leakers:

Judy Woodruff: Let me ask you about Edward Snowden. You have argued time and again that he’s done great damage to U.S. national security. How do you quantify that?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Well, it goes back to that terrorist numbers that I gave you.

Here’s what I see. Terrorists and others are adjusting how they operate. We have been very good because we have great tools, great people in the military and the intelligence community helping to defend this country and in law enforcement.

When you take those tools away, it’s analogous to the “Wheel of Fortune,” when you can guess vowels and stuff. And, all of a sudden, they say, well, you can’t guess A and O anymore. You can’t guess some of these, but you have to figure out the puzzle.

And what we’re doing is, we’re taking away some of the tools that our intelligence analysts use to stop terrorist attacks. And I believe, given the fact that terrorist attacks are increasing and that our tools are being publicly revealed, that we put our nation and our allies in greater harm, and I believe that’s why we have said people are going to pay for this with their lives.

This is a screwy answer: Snowden didn’t take any tools away. Knowledge of what the NSA is doing only helps the terrorists if they use that information to, say, switch from Yahoo mail to an email service that the NSA isn’t shuffling through.

Expanding on my two questions:

  • Are there cases, other than Najibullah Zazi, of NSA surveillance of US citizens preventing a terrorist attack?
  • Is there a clear demonstration that, without the NSA, Zazi would not have been identified?
  • Have leaks by Snowden and others done any harm other than indicating what intelligence capabilities the NSA has?

Jul 29


Jul 23

Jul 21
From The Annals of Improbable Research,  Tastes Like Chicken?


  The field of culinary evolution faces one great dilemma: why do most cooked, exotic meats taste like cooked Gallus gallus, the domestic chicken?
  
  It is curious that so many animals have a similar taste. Did each species evolve this trait independently or did they all inherit it from a common ancestor? That is the burning question.


A phylogenetic tree about why so much stuff tastes like chicken.

From The Annals of Improbable Research, Tastes Like Chicken?

The field of culinary evolution faces one great dilemma: why do most cooked, exotic meats taste like cooked Gallus gallus, the domestic chicken?

It is curious that so many animals have a similar taste. Did each species evolve this trait independently or did they all inherit it from a common ancestor? That is the burning question.

A phylogenetic tree about why so much stuff tastes like chicken.


Jul 19
maxistentialist:

Adult transport is among the more striking ant behaviors.
A worker  curls up into fetal pupal position, allowing a nestmate  to pick her up by the mandibles and carry her about. Many species are  known to engage in adult transport (see here and here),  and as the behavior is frequently observed during nest relocation the  reason is thought to be related to communication- it’s easier for an ant  that knows where a colony needs to move to simply pick up another ant  and carry it rather than try to lead it or communicate the directions. A  second function may be ergonomic. One ant carrying another expends less  energy than two ants walking on their own.

Here’s a reference:

Möglich, M. & Hölldobler, B., 1974. Social carrying behavior and division of labor during nest moving of ants. Psyche, 81(2), pp.219–236.

Abstract:


  Social carrying behavior is one of the most remarkable social activities in ant societies. Not only eggs, larvae and pupae, but also adult workers, queens and males are frequently carried by worker ants to various target areas. Although carrying behavior has been observed in many ant species (see review in E. O. Wilson 1971), only a few analytical investigations have dealt with the biological significance of social carrying behavior in ants. Kneitz (1964) reports that in Formica polyctena special “storage workers” are passively moved between the summer nest and winter nest. Arnoldi (1932) observed that during the slave raids Rossomyrmex proformicarum uses the carrying technique to recruit sister workers to the nest of the slave ants. In Camponotus herculeanus social carrying behavior serves as a “social timer” during the nuptial flight activities: males that tend to take off too early or too late during the daily flight periods are carried back into the nest by their worker nestmates (Holldobler and Maschwitz 1964). 
  Most frequently, however, carrying behavior is employed during emigration from one nest site to another. If a nest becomes too small and cannot be extended, or if the microclimatic conditions change, the colony searches for a better site. Although the communication signals used by different ant species to organize nest movings vary considerably, adult transport seems to be the basic recruitment technique of most.

maxistentialist:

Adult transport is among the more striking ant behaviors.

A worker curls up into fetal pupal position, allowing a nestmate to pick her up by the mandibles and carry her about. Many species are known to engage in adult transport (see here and here), and as the behavior is frequently observed during nest relocation the reason is thought to be related to communication- it’s easier for an ant that knows where a colony needs to move to simply pick up another ant and carry it rather than try to lead it or communicate the directions. A second function may be ergonomic. One ant carrying another expends less energy than two ants walking on their own.

Here’s a reference:

Möglich, M. & Hölldobler, B., 1974. Social carrying behavior and division of labor during nest moving of ants. Psyche, 81(2), pp.219–236.

Abstract:

Social carrying behavior is one of the most remarkable social activities in ant societies. Not only eggs, larvae and pupae, but also adult workers, queens and males are frequently carried by worker ants to various target areas. Although carrying behavior has been observed in many ant species (see review in E. O. Wilson 1971), only a few analytical investigations have dealt with the biological significance of social carrying behavior in ants. Kneitz (1964) reports that in Formica polyctena special “storage workers” are passively moved between the summer nest and winter nest. Arnoldi (1932) observed that during the slave raids Rossomyrmex proformicarum uses the carrying technique to recruit sister workers to the nest of the slave ants. In Camponotus herculeanus social carrying behavior serves as a “social timer” during the nuptial flight activities: males that tend to take off too early or too late during the daily flight periods are carried back into the nest by their worker nestmates (Holldobler and Maschwitz 1964). Most frequently, however, carrying behavior is employed during emigration from one nest site to another. If a nest becomes too small and cannot be extended, or if the microclimatic conditions change, the colony searches for a better site. Although the communication signals used by different ant species to organize nest movings vary considerably, adult transport seems to be the basic recruitment technique of most.


I was reading Infinite Jest in the Kindle app, and came to this use of the word, “qua”. When I looked it up in the dictionary, the example was the sentence that I had just read in the book. I still don’t really know what the word means.

I was reading Infinite Jest in the Kindle app, and came to this use of the word, “qua”. When I looked it up in the dictionary, the example was the sentence that I had just read in the book. I still don’t really know what the word means.


Jul 14

Jul 13

Page 1 of 92