Archive for September, 2008

Such an offer

September 26, 2008

Phorm mulls incentives for ad targeting wiretaps • The Register

The idea is one of more than a dozen possible incentives being punted in a survey running on the market research site Toluna.com. The questionnaire probes attitudes to “Webwise”, the consumer-friendly branding its planned Phorm’s system will carry once switched on.

Other carrots suggested include:

* An upgrade to a faster broadband package at no extra cost
* £1 off monthly broadband bills
* £1 cashback per month
* A cut of advertising revenues
* A free premium technical support line
* Free music download vouchers
* Free anti-virus software
* Parental content controls

The current incentive planned by BT and Phorm for Webwise – checking URLs against a white label anti-phishing list – is also offered by the survey. Toluna users are also questioned about a potential feature called “Webwise Local” that would allow advertisers to target internet users based on their location.

Wow. They’re offering things they ought to be delivering as a matter of course (OK, not some of the actual monetary incentives, although prices could be lower) as an inducement for letting them track you and interfere with your browsing. Whee.

Such a last-century understanding

September 26, 2008

The Reality-Based Community: Virtual financial particles

The equivalent of Intrade’s margin requirement for banks is the reserves that they have to set aside to cover the risks in their derivative positions. The banks lobbied hard to allow these to be calculated with their own in-house models – this laxity will have to go. The total amount of capital tied up, even at current inadequate ratios, must be in the tens of billions. These capital requirements are also, as noted above, inherently more volatile; so banks become more dependent on each other to meet their regulatory obligations. What brought the house down however was the systemic informational risk; the subprime mortgage derivatives couldn’t be priced.

But the folks who’ve been failing aren’t (in regulatory terms) banks. Published accounts have leverage ratios (very roughly the reciprocal of margin requirements) at 30:1 to 100:1. And even that’s not really a reserve requirement, because who knows where the original money for the pyramid came from. Imagine that someone lent you money for that Intrade bid, and someone lent them money…

But the real misunderstanding is thinking that all this deadweight and all the cuts taken out for processing are bugs. This is the financial industry we’re talking about. Who gets all the fees, and who collects all the spare interest? So the more layers and the more opaque each layer, requiring more advice and more fees, the more profitable. If bankers could find a way to spin money around that was all deadweight and fees, with no benefit to the physical economy at all, they’d be so there.

Because they won’t lose any of that data over five years

September 26, 2008

Vehicle spy-cam data to be held for five years • The Register

Authorities will store details of car journeys surveilled by the new national Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system for five years, the Home Office has revealed.

Senior police officer had said the data on millions of vehicles would only be kept for two years, the Guardian reports. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is examining a complaint by Privacy International over the extended retention period.

What an absolute treasure trove. And if the police can’t find current offenses the data is good for prosecuting, they can just mine it to make up new ones.

Such a last-century understanding

September 26, 2008

The Reality-Based Community: Virtual financial particles

The equivalent of Intrade’s margin requirement for banks is the reserves that they have to set aside to cover the risks in their derivative positions. The banks lobbied hard to allow these to be calculated with their own in-house models – this laxity will have to go. The total amount of capital tied up, even at current inadequate ratios, must be in the tens of billions. These capital requirements are also, as noted above, inherently more volatile; so banks become more dependent on each other to meet their regulatory obligations. What brought the house down however was the systemic informational risk; the subprime mortgage derivatives couldn’t be priced.

But the folks who’ve been failing aren’t (in regulatory terms) banks. Published accounts have leverage ratios (very roughly the reciprocal of margin requirements) at 30:1 to 100:1. And even that’s not really a reserve requirement, because who knows where the original money for the pyramid came from. Imagine that someone lent you money for that Intrade bid, and someone lent them money…

But the real misunderstanding is thinking that all this deadweight and all the cuts taken out for processing are bugs. This is the financial industry we’re talking about. Who gets all the fees, and who collects all the spare interest? So the more layers and the more opaque each layer, requiring more advice and more fees, the more profitable. If bankers could find a way to spin money around that was all deadweight and fees, with no benefit to the physical economy at all, they’d be so there.

Does this mean dinosaurs got drunk on berries?

September 25, 2008

Boffin brews up ‘Jurassic Park’ beer • The Register

he result is, Discovery News explains, barrels of pale ale and German wheat beer offering a unique ale-quaffing experience due partly to the yeast’s singular metabolism. Cano explained: “The ancient yeast is restricted to a narrow band of carbohydrates, unlike more modern yeasts, which can consume just about any kind of sugar.”

Cano elaborated: “You can always buy brewing yeast, and your product will be based on the brewmaster’s recipes. Our yeast has a double angle: We have yeast no one else has and our own beer recipes.”

The dino-yeast will apparently evolve the ability to consume other forms of sugar, in the process changing the beers’ flavour. Cano intends to keep a stock of the original extraction to guard against evolutionary degradation of his brews.

Didn’t they do this on MSTK3K?

September 25, 2008

DeviceGuru » Get ready for… Nanosoccer!

The soccer nanobots, operated by human players via remote-controlled electric and magnetic fields, push tiny discs around on a 2.5 x 2.5 mm playing field. The human players view the competition through an optical microscope.

The competition consists of three events:

* Two-millimeter dash — the nanobots race across the playing field as fast as possible
* Obstacle course — the nanobots must successfully traverse a path blocked by “polymer post” defenders
* Ball handling drill — the nanobots dribble as many “nanoballs” as possible into the goal within 3 minutes

It’s kinda cool that they’ve gotten things this reproducible, but I think they should really be controlled by computer programs.

But it’s a good mob

September 24, 2008

‘Malware-friendly’ Intercage back among the living • The Register

Over the past few weeks, the Intercage saga has at times resembled the wild west, where justice is meted out by an informal network of power brokers rather than duly appointed officials. Given the frequent inability of today’s law enforcement in overcoming a rat’s nest of extra-territorial and technical issues, this form of frontier justice is probably unavoidable. And in any case, the vast majority of the white hats manning the system are honest and have netizens’ best interests at heart.

Given how slow the wheels of official justice grind (and how coarsely) this kind of thing may be the least bad among a lot of lousy options. And of course it goes back to the good old days of the net when a few czars ran the whole damn thing, and those pesky young’uns just had to like it.

Of course, if you subvert a few white hats.

No blank check

September 24, 2008

The Reality-Based Community: Abracadabra

At the Banking Committee hearing today, Chuck Schumer–not generally known as someone who is tough on Wall Street–asked Hank Paulson a reasonable question: why do you need $700 billion right now? You said you were going to use about $50 billion a month; so why don’t we give you $150 billion now and then come back in 3 months?

And Paulson simply refused to answer the question.

First, he said that it’s about market confidence.

This from a guy whose contribution to market confidence has been to go on record saying that we shouldn’t tell executives how much money they can draw just because we’re going to be paying their salaries, because it might stop them from accepting bailout money. In other words, that his former colleagues put their personal compensation above the interests of their shareholders. In other other words, that they’re crooks.

This is why I am coming to think that the whole thing is an enormous bluff (and quite possibly a deliberate scam). If Paulson were really worried about a credit crunch sinking the economy right now I don’t think he would be playing this kind of brinksmanship. He’d be getting whatever funding he could, as soon as he could, and getting to work doing the actual bailout.

Plucky little rover

September 24, 2008

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Mars rover facing two-year trek

The mission team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 100m per day.

But even at that pace, the journey could take two years. The rover will stop to study rocks on the way, and in winter months it cannot move because there is not enough sunlight to provide sufficient power for driving.

Wow. Like the viking landers, these guys have performed way beyond expectations. This is the kind of thing that makes you proud to be part of the human race.

The guilty flee where none pursue

September 24, 2008

‘Pre-crime’ detector shows promise – Short Sharp Science – New Scientist

At an equestrian centre in Maryland, 140 paid volunteers walked through a pair of trailers kitted out with a battery of FAST sensors, including cameras, infrared heat sensors and an eyesafe laser radar, called a Bio-Lidar, that measures pulse and breathing rate from a distance.

Some subjects were told to act shifty, be evasive, deceptive and hostile. And many were detected. “We’re still very early on in this research, but it is looking very promising,” says DHS science spokesman John Verrico. “We are running at about 78% accuracy on mal-intent detection, and 80% on deception.”

So this will catch amateur criminals, and people who are nervous that they’ve unwittingly done something wrong while living in a police state. The professionals, who aren’t particularly nervous or evasive, will just breeze right through.