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Biometric monkeys get Imperial about student satellites

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Letters What a mixed and varied week it has been. Let's see...where to start?

None of you was very impressed that a sociologist was giving evidence this week in the Dover intelligent design trial. We had several letters suggesting that some kind of science, as opposed to arts-based qualification would be more useful.

Reader Scott Nicholson suggests that the next witness might be a mechanic from Colorado, while David Deaves wonders why the Pope has not been called to testify (testify!). Others were less polite.

Others still wrote in to point out that the idea of intelligent design goes back a long way before William Paley started mulling stones and watches he may or may not have tripped over in a field. Fair point. We'll certainly concede that one, since it only serves to further emphasis the point we were making.

We also heard from Professor Stephen Fuller himself, who wanted to explain his testimony a little further. And how churlish it would have been for us to refuse:

In the Dover trial, I defended the teaching of intelligent design (ID) not to vindicate the existence of the Christian God. Rather, I argued that the assumption of God’s existence has been historically useful in conceptualizing and tackling scientific problems, especially at the high level of abstraction implied by ‘design’, a term still used by biologists.

However, the deity’s heuristic role in prompting scientific thought should not be confused with its validation. Here the philosophical distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification is crucial. You can't have science without both contexts, but the two contexts must operate independently. Truly scientific claims must be justifiable by those who don't share the discoverer’s original mindset and motivation. Yet, certain scientific claims would probably have never been proposed at all, were scientists not bold (or arrogant) enough to think they could get into ‘The Mind of God’. This lends credence to the pedagogical value of introducing design-based arguments into the science curriculum.

The Protestant Reformation took deadly seriously the Biblical idea of humans created in the image and likeness of God. This move, nowadays associated with Christian fundamentalism, also emboldened the nonconformists who started the Scientific Revolution. The greatest ID theorist is not William Paley, who wrote as design arguments were waning, but Isaac Newton - and after him, Charles Babbage, the computer’s inventor, who envisaged God as having programmed the universe with stochastic variables (to account for free will). That impulse was carried into biology, especially genetics, nowadays known for ‘playing God’. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the two seminal figures in this field, Gregor Mendel and Theodosius Dobzhansky, were devout Christians.

Contemporary ID defenders have yet to reconnect fully with this history - I suspect, more for religious than scientific reasons: After all, once you assume the mind of God, you also assume his sense of responsibility for what happens in nature!

Professor Stephen Fuller

University of Warwick


IBM wants to donate a subsection of its Rational Unified Process software process platform to the OS community. It reckons this will help promote better software development practices:

I'm awestruck at the audacity of this move. No need for black helicopters to whip Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman and other communistical coding ne'er do wells to Guantanamo.

Instead, just persuade 'em to spend 90% of their time producing 'myriads of plans, processes, and compliance documents' like the cubicle slaves in the 'commercial' software industry'! Legal, painless and effective! Even if they do manage to get something out the door it'll be just as crap as IBM/Rational's stuff and they'll be so fed up they'll give up and go do-gooding for Oxfam.

In no time at all you could again start charging mega-bucks for senile ports of Unix System V! Give that IBMer a raise!

Andrew


A survey found, this week, that lots of DNS servers are not secured properly:

"Use hardened, secure appliances instead of systems based on general-purpose servers and operating software applications."

Indeed. Considering that the "core" DNS stuff without the bells and whistles is rather trivial, I imagine a 4 in^2 board with a few MByte NVRAM for configuration would suffice. Or you could ditch "bind" and use e.g. Bernstein's DNS tinydns/dnscache implementation. Be prepared for some arrogance when you do the 'my way or the highway'-style installation - but it sure is relaxing when one can finally stash the O'Reilly 'DNS and BIND' book into the archive room.

David


One line fix for Bind 9.3.1: allow-recursion { "name-of-acl-list"}; or allow-recursion { "10.0.0.0/24"}; Add that to your named.conf options{} section and restart Bind.

Presto, recursive queries are only allowed from the pre-defined acl "name-of-acl-list" or from the 10.0.0.[0-255] network. It really is that simple. Any client not in the acl or the 10.0.0.[0-255] network will be denied recursive queries.

Yes it really is that simple.

-Kurt

Disclaimer: The Reg doesn't recommend anyone runs code on their own machines or anyone else's unless they know what they are messing with.


Use hardened, secure appliances instead of systems based on general-purpose servers and operating software applications (such as InfoBlox's appliance for DNS, we guess the firm is saying here, well it had to get a product pitch in there somewhere). ---

A very good reason to avoid giving credibility to "firms" specializing in research at any level. In order to make money; somebody has to pay them to research and answer (they expect to receive). Add to that-- any company that builds a product or service, then offers 'research' into their line of business only detracts from their credibility. We all know that a company's marketing department is the only authoritative entity.

Ultimately what it comes down to is the credibility of research. Silliness such as this, inaccuracies, and "guided" research is the basis for the beloved Slashdot "Netcraft confirms it!" joke.

Furthering the joke by publishing them or referring to them in other forums only legitimizes them in areas where they'd otherwise be laughed out of existence.

Scott


A timely reminder of why a sceptical ear is required when listening to government assurances about security of personal data:

David Bassinet led a major trades union. After he retired he gave Channel 4 TV permission to try to access his personal records. Four private detectives were each paid £500 to do this. They all obtained his medical, bank, tax, and mortgage records and those of his wife. They apologised for not getting his criminal record and one detective actually told the reporter to be careful as people who could expunge criminal record were dangerous. Of course, David Bassinet had no criminal record to expunge.

We are told that the new biometric database will be completely secure just like databases were then. But then they would say that wouldn't they? The thing that really infuriates me is having to send gas bills to prove my identity. I own a computer and it I could be arsed to put a colour cartridge in the printer I could produce gas bills much more convincing than the ones that come from the gas company.

John


Dell announces consumer backup/hardrive mirroring for $99. You say it bothers you not at all that this offer appears to be staying stateside, since it will be of no use to man or beast:

Is this just Dell adding a second drive and configuring it with the onboard SATA raid? Surely if the first drive gets screwed up by a virus, so will the second? This only protects against hardware failure... something which in far less common than fred bloggs deleting the windows folder...

Nathan


Your report doesn't go into much detail, but going from the sparse information, that's not a backup system. That's RAID done badly. Is there any history? Offline storage? RAID is included on many motherboards, and PCI RAID controllers aren't very expensive, and XP comes with software RAID anyway, so I'm not impressed by software that merely updates a copy of your data.

A current copy of your data is a great hedge against hard drive crashes, but does little against accidental deletion of files. Nor will it help if you've been infected by a virus for the last month (and presumably only just noticed) and want to recover from before that.

One power glitch could take out your entire computer, including both hard drives. What good is that copy now? Offline storage solves that problem neatly.

Jeffrey


RAID is not a backup - Please ask Dell to repeat this until they understand.

R - stands for redundancy, not backup. It protects from single drive failure, but nothing else - no software failures or human error. A backup allows me to go and grab last weeks version of my tax return, before someone accidentally deleted it.

Assuming the Dell system really is a constant replication system then I'd be stuffed!

John


One problem. It sounds like they are doing RAID 1 (mirroring), which isn't really a proper backup, it's replication. This means that any user errors like deleting important files will be replicated (files are deleted on the "backup" drive as well). Most data loss is due to human error (I deleted what now? Oh bugger!) not crashing hard drives. Selling this as a "backup" solution will probably result in long term problems (like a lawsuit) when customers find out that their data is gone.

Kurt


I was just reading the article "Dell launches back-up system for dummies". Noticed that a launch date hasn't been set for outside the US. Since these new Dimensions come with a gear shaft that you don't have to mess around with anymore Dell might have to work around different trade laws since they have a hybrid pc car on their hands. This could cause delays in shipping..

Rgds, W


Note to companies. This is why its a bad idea to try to work out how much spyware costs the industry. Yes. You will be mocked.

I estimate that guesstimates on the cost of Internet threats is costing the industry at least $40 billion every year.

In this estimate, I take into account the number of meetings such guesstimates invariably prompt, as well as the salaries of the numerous, highly-paid managers who attend such meetings in force in order to :

1) show off their PC knowledge to their more clueless colleagues

2) get recognized as a forward-thinking, technically-aware element of value by the Boss

3) insert some of their own wrong ideas on security in the already badly-thought-out security scheme

4) get some emotional thrills when someone inevitably utters a question about customers finding out security issues

5) be able to take credit in the rare case when something approved by the meeting members actually does improve data security

Pascal.


The Met Police decide to go after cybercrime on a commonwealth-wide scale:

Hmmn, that's going to be successful. This is the Met remember. Since they arrest security professionals (the people who they need to help them catch criminals) for typing /../../../ on a URL, I fully expect members of their team to be arrested for treading on the cracks in the pavement.

K.


MPs call for the government to force ISPs to disclose their child porn blocking policy:

Or to put it another way...

"MP to publicly advertise which ISPs it's easiest to get kiddie porn on"

Funny thing is that the BBC article says that some ISPs deliberately do not disclose their site blocking procedures in order to make it more difficult for people to get hold of the stuff... Maybe someone needs to take Ms. Moran aside and have a long talk with her using very short words...

Matt


Some terrible puns about Tropical storm alpha:

Bah. I'm waiting until the storm at least goes beta. I might even put it off for retail.

I'm all over gamma storm though, I could use me some super powers.

Bill


I guess you could call it a Greek tragedy...

Alex


Students in Europe send a satellite into space. Alright, it's not working so well 24 hours later, but it was looking good yesterday:

>> exactly how a stolen traffic-cone improves the aerodynamics of a rocket launcher

Why, it was left right on the top, of course !!

The sociology students would have had a satellite too, but they left all the work right till the end of term, and it was too late. The science and engineering students had to do lab work every week day afternoon, so at least they had theirs ready.

Regards, Mike


How was this project funded? Did they all get together at the end and scrape together lots of loose change after carefully dividing the bill according to work done? :-)

Ian


I thought you might like to know that the satellite built "by China" was actually built by us here in the UK and sold *to China*. So there were two satellites built in Guildford on this morning's launch - and they are both working extremely well so far. Everything has been working perfectly on the few times they have flown over and we have talked to them

Regards, David Peilow, SSTL


And finally, why we Brits should hold our heads high and refuse to worry ourselves with trivial details like having RFID chips in our passports:

Simply coat the passports in tinfoil or similar, then you can only read the passport when it is open. Thus, walk through customs holding your passport open in your hand.

Although I still prefer the old heavy leather bound passport we British used to have... it spoke of authority.... you didn't give it to the customs officials, you used it to smash them aside. Purpose of visit? Imperialism! Get out of my way!

Nathan


And that's all she wrote. Let the countdown to Saturday begin. ®

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