14 April 2014

Cyber Attacks


Go read Weaponsman's analysis on the steps of conducting a cyber attack.

Allow me to give a differential analysis, not because I completely disagree with his understanding, just that I think this is a better model for comparison.

Those seven steps are not very analogous to a combat operation.  Those seven steps are very analogous to placing a spy in an enemy Command, Control and Communications sensitive area.

Step one, Recon. What does your target look like?  In the human realm this is things like location, ethnicity, dialect, social circle, and education. In the cyber realm this is the operating system, installed applications, hardware configurations (you know Intel built in remote access at the hardware level for some of their newere processors, right?), and physical security measures.

Step two, weaponization. This is where you take the spy you want to insert and make sure his cover story is air tight, make sure he/she can speak the language, make sure that they are prepared to penetrate inside of the enemies security measures. In the cyber world this is the same thing, except with an electronic file of some sort. This is a generally a custom bit of code that is designed to get access to the target machine, and begin the process of escalating privileges. These generally have to be custom code because a truly successful hack requires a "zero day exploit" that the target security measures haven't seen before, so they don't know to look for it. The spy has to pass for the enemy, your weapon has to pass for legit code.

Step three, delivery. You insert your spy into enemy territory, send him to a training camp, have her use her cover role as a secretary to take a lover in high command, there are a lot of options. In the cyber world you insert your code into an enemy machine. Email attachments are common, but even remote access to a printer has worked in the past. This is the initial access to your target. Some viruses are specifically targeted to only a few systems, so they can be spread benignly through carriers. If you've ever been chewed out by your boss or IT guy because you plugged your smarthpone into your work computer to charge, you deserved it.

Step four, exploitation. This is where your spy is on the inside, and simply gathering information. In the cyber realm, your malware is giving you information. At this stage the spy has done nothing destructive and neither has the malware. The spy is letting you know how many players their are in the enemy force structure, the malware is letting you know how many users, how many machines, how many IP schemes, etc.

Step five, installation. This is where the spy sets up a blind spot to let a commando team into the secure compound (or some other analogy, it could be dropping a radar screen for five minutes so a plane can fly somewhere). In the cyber realm, this is the backdoor that allows an outsider to gain system access to the targeted machine (or network). Still nothing destructive has happened yet. The commando team is poised and ready to take over, the hacker is poised and ready to pawn the network.

Step six, Command and Control. This is where the spy pulls his pistol inside the enemy command post while the commandos rush in and takes over. In the Cyber Realm this is where the backdoor is exploited by a hacker on your side to "own the system" and take control of the network.

Step seven, actions on the objective. The objective for our spy is to take down the enemy network from the inside, and now he gets to make off with file cabinets full of records to keep hunting down the enemy based on the intelligence found there. Our cyber realm equivalent is doing the same, replicating data found on the enemy network, exploiting that intelligence to build more targeting packets and enable real world operations.

Now the "step seven" also has an alternate ending, complete destruction. The spy placed a nuke in the HQ and all the bad guys blow up.  Stuxnet overspun the centrifuges and the enrichment stopped. That is also a legitimate "actions on the objective." With stuxnet steps 3 through 7 had to be all in the code as the targeted network was isolated from outside communications, it took someone plugging in a USB device, or infected optical disk, to transfer that virus to the targeted network.

At the heart of it Cyber warfare is information warfare. Not information warfare in the terms of "winning the hearts and minds" or "engaging the media" but the ability to manipulate the information your enemy has coming in, and dominate the conflict between the two parties to your favor by gaining and maintaining information dominance.

HTML 5 and CSS

What follows is simply a whiny rant, so no need to read further.

I am not a code monkey. I will probably never be a code monkey. But everyone who works computers is expected to have a working knowledge of HTML.

In the tech world systems develop over time, and evolutionary changes are the norm, except when they aren't. Every once in a while someone will "simplify things" and it will screw up everyone who was used to doing things the old way.

HTML 5 with Cascading Style Sheets is like that. If you never did any HTML 4 and you just learned HTML 5 with CSS then you would marvel at all the "spaghetti code monsters" that came out of previous version of HTML.

But it makes re-learning things all sorts of frustrating because now you have to remind yourself to "use CSS" instead of a depricated markup. I'm sure that by the time I'm done I'll be completely in love with HTML 5 and CSS, but for right now it seems like I spend half my time looking up referrences on how to do what I used to do with inline code to put it into a style sheet...

Learning isn't always fun, but it is always worth it.

12 April 2014

500 Yard shots in the wind

One of the hardest things for me to unlearn is to shoot for score, instead of shooting to hit the target. I've always been a "tactical Timmy" adjusting my sights for the wind, trying to thread my bullet through the breeze. I can hit the target doing that, but I've never been able to keep it tight on the 10 ring like a no wind condition. I was doing pretty good today, holding inside the 8 ring for two strings, and only dropping to the 7 ring once at 300 yards. At 500 yards, the wind started getting squirrely and my groups opened up as I tried to compensate for the shifts. I won't post my final score for that as I am really not proud of it, but the two misses I got were less than 4 inches from the 5 ring.

I was having a discussion in the pits today with a very nice young lady who shot a 189 in some very challenging wind conditions. A difference of 4 inches on a torso is essentially meaningless against an unarmored torso, but that is the difference between a 10 and an 8 for score on a target. Or the difference between a 6 and a miss.

She said these words "You have to choose your condition and shoot in it. I shot my first sighter when the flag at the target line was indicating left and when I felt the breeze on my hair.  That was my condition.  The hardest part about shooting in the wind is just waiting for your condition, but you have a lot of time."

20 minutes is a long time. And you do run the risk that your wind condition won't replicate in that time frame, but in my experience that isn't likely at all. Winds shift and swirl, conditions change rapidly.

An infantryman, if he misses a shot, can simply take another shot. Misses in combat have a very different consequence than they do in competition. A miss in combat can still cause your enemy to get fixed in place, so depending on what you want to do (suppress for example) a near miss can be part of the plan. But in competition the only thing worse than a fast miss is a slow miss.

So I've been chewing on her words all afternoon, because she is a better shot than I am and her advice was sound. There are times when we will need to "wait for conditions" even in a tactical situation. If you are on a sniper mission you wouldn't take the shot if you knew it would miss due to environmental conditions.

Part of me wants to keep fiddling with the sights, or using front sight hold off, because that is what I've been doing, and I really do want to be able to make the shot in any condition. The smarter part of my brain says, "Listen to her, learn to use tactical patience when competing because what you have been doing hasn't been improving your scores."

Now I won't have this issue at all with Vintage Sniper, you only get 20 seconds per shot in that game so I'll HAVE to keep adjusting for wind. So I think I'll start "choosing my condition" in High Power in order to get consistently better scores.  After all, if I only shoot 19 out of 20 rounds for score and drop one because I ran out of time, that can be better than 18 for score with two marked misses.

11 April 2014

Gender roles and gender norms

So the Guardian made Larry Correia the straw man for a an article on gender roles in speculative fiction.  This was spawned by a woman named Alex MacFarlane and her quest to change the buying habits of SciFi readers by bullying SciFi writers with shameful accusations. This led to a bunch of people getting all bitchy and mad at commercially successful writers who wouldn't comply with the double plus good groupthink.

Some dude I don't read by the name of Jim C Hines wrote this in an attempt to fisk Larry. Trying to fisk Larry is a losing proposition, because Larry picks his battles carefully and doesn't fall into the DK effect that I have ever noticed.
And yes, male and female are cultural norms in pretty much every human society EVER! Except Mesopotamia, India, Siberia, Illiniwek, Olmec, Aztec, Maya, Thailand, Lakota, Blackfoot, Indonesia, Swahili, Azande, and all of the other cultures that historically or currently acknowledge the existence of more than two genders.

So pretty much any anthropologist will tell you that cultures that accept "non-heteronormative" gender roles accept them as a minority of the population. No matter how "open" the society was or is about transgendered, asexual, transexual, bisexual, genderqueer or other labels, that those labels applied to a distinct minority. In some cases, such as some Pacific Islander culture, the alternative gender roles were forced on individuals in order to fulfil a specific familial or societal need.

In any case, getting hard and fast numbers on gender and sexual roles in those societies is not my area of expertise, but think about all the left handed people in your life, statistically about 1 in 10, with predictable clusters in some industries and in some families, and you have a pretty good understanding of how a minority role is distributed throughout a society.

And Jim Hines screws the pooch when talking about "acknowledging more than two genders" is scientifically wrong. There are only two genders, male and female but there are however multiple "gender roles."

Cells dictate biology, so when I talk about "gender" I am talking about what your genes are doing. There are genetic conditions where a genetically "male" develops into a sterile female.

Now there is another case, chimeric individuals where two fetuses fuse into one individual it is possible to have an individual with functional male and female cells, tissues, and organs in the body. This is not a "third gender" it is a combination of two sexes in one organism.

Now all of this is interesting, because all of this is rare. I expect that in the future that these conditions will continue to be rare, but that society will continue to open up acceptance of non-traditional gender roles. One of my professors told me that only anthropologists and political scientists are allowed to make sweeping generalizations, every other scientist MUST BE PRECISE. So I have attempted to be precise without being too wordy.

RobertaX described my ideal political party, the Pauls. Ron Paul, RuPaul, and Les Paul. Fiscally conservative, socially permissive, with damn good guitar accompaniment. But even in my future where people are free to let their freak flag fly I expect that just like every other culture that embraces "non-heteronormative" gender roles, that traditional gender roles will be the societal norm just like being right handed is the societal norm.

If you believe in Evolutionary Biology then it isn't too much of a logical leap to figure out that there are behaviour patterns which have proven to be successful at propagating the species. Those patterns are passed down as survival skills from tribes, to agrarian societies, to industrial societies, to post-industrial societies.

You wanna know how I'm right? Look at the cover of romance novels. Sure there is queer or other romance out there for those audiences, but by large romance novels (and even that horribly bad 50 Shades of Smut) is centered around the ultimate myth of romance, that a woman's love can fix a man. If there are any women reading this who haven't figured it out by now, your love is not some magical healing elixir which will turn Joe Fatass into Fabio. I wish it were, my wife would give me an amazing set of abs.

So we live in a hetero-normative culture. That doesn't mean we can't have an accepting and inclusive hetero-normative culture in the future. It also means that if you want to build a non-heteronormative culture in SF, you need mechanisms to explain that to todays audience.  In the "Forever War" homosexuality was explained as an adaptation to space travel. In "Dr. Who" the Doctor makes several references to swinging both ways.

Lois McMaster Bujold devoted an entire planet to men in her Miles Vorkosigan series and explained it in an entirely logical manner.

To end this post, I really don't have a dog in the fight of speculative science fiction. All the authors that I like reading have no problem writing characters that are more than just WASP stereotypes. Even Larry Correia. Because the authors I like are damn good storytellers, and entertainers. If I want a lecture on how my current culture is heteronormative and therefore somehow evil, I just need to read salon or slate.com.

Oh the Katana...

Recently there have been a number of folks calling out the "katana cultists" and "katana fanbois" on the internet. Hat tip to Tam for the first link.


And this video was going around the book of face (I have friends in the HEMA community....)


First off, the katana is just like any other weapon, it is a series of compromises. The fanbois who say that anything is perfect are idiots. Conversely the critics who say that something is completely useless are usually wrong. Although there are people designing pistol bullets that come damn close to the platonic ideal of "fucking useless" even those can still serve as an example of "don't do this or PT Barnum will laugh in is grave."

The question becomes, under what circumstances is this set of compromises the ideal choice for me?

Well, a katana or wakizashi will be better than a spear when in tight, confined areas such as a narrow hallway which negates the longer reach of a spear. In dense forest or brush a sword (or machete) would be more useful than an axe for clearing your way through that blackberry thicket. I'm sure some katana fanboi just crapped himself at the thought of someone using a sword as a brush clearing tool...

If you are going in to town and in a generally peaceful area, it is easier to carry a sheathed sword on your person than an 8 foot tipped spear, or even a 6 foot short spear.  Of course a gladius would work just as well for this, or even a kindjal. A foot and a half to two feet of sharpened steel in someone's guts is an effective way to express your lack of willingness to be a victim.

But even a club that you can use to knock heads is better than being disarmed. It is true that a sword would not be my "go to weapon" for charging off into battle. But just like the compact 9mm pistol I have for concealed carry, a katana or wakizashi is "handy" to carry around just in case you need to have something to fight with. My Kahr is not ideal, but the compromise between weight, profile, and capacity is one that I can live with in my current situation. If 7 rounds of 9x19 can't handle the situation, it is really time to start packing a rifle and wearing body armor.

So, a sword on your hip beats a spear on the rack back home. A spear in your hand outranges the sword the other guy has. The bow with quality arrows will take you both down before you get close. A crossbow is great for easy accuracy, a longbow is better for rapid fire. And in any fight, bring your friends, it's a team sport.

09 April 2014

What do you want your military to be?

One of the things that the Air Force has done very well to ensure that they keep a high budget priority with Congress is to get a piece of their toys built in every freaking state. When a Senator is voting against jobs to shut down the latest Air Force budget boondoggle it is a LOT easier to get him to become hawkish on Defense toot sweet.

One of the other reasons that the Air Force is master of the budgetary battle is that they sell themselves as "all things to all people." There is no such thing as a "limited mission scope" to the Air Force.

You want a spec ops team halfway around the globe on short notice? You either need the Navy or the Air Force to do that. How about slip a virus to an enemy C2 network? The Air Force has been fighting for the lead in the "cyber realm" pretty hard and while they have some good reasons for it, those reasons aren't exactly altruistic.

Anyways, in the era of shrinking budgets, the rise of China as a parity foe, the resurgence of Russia as a parity foe, what exactly do YOU want your military to be? A tool for international diplomacy where we build alliances and security cooperatives, or a lean mean killing machine that focuses purely on a kinetic battle?

Pretty soon the "lean mean killing machine" option will be off the table, and we will be stuck with the "warrior diplomat" option where we have to hang together with our allies or hang separately alone.

In Europe, the Germans and French military might are now the main NATO ground force. We are effectively disarming our allies air power with the F-35 Albino Elephant program, so expect a lot more "cooperation building exercises" with our fellow NATO members. If we don't have boots on the ground it isn't a deterrent to Russian adventurism.

The core of the Navy, the Carrier Group, is getting a downsize. This frees up the Navy to start mothballing some of the oldest F/A-18 variants, but those old planes are still pretty kick ass compared to COMBLOC variants still in service around the world.

The Army is going to essentially be a "flex force" as we'll have one brigade in South Korea, one in Germany, and one in Italy for our "forward deployed" force structure. The Special Forces groups will have their "forward deployed" Battalions in various areas, but that is a different sort of capability than "warfighting combat power." Don't get me wrong, a BNs worth of green berets is an awesome combat capability, but won't do much on their own against an armored Division rolling down the pike.

I think that the public should have a larger say in what their military is, and what its role in national security and diplomacy is. Expect NONE of this to be debated in the next election cycle.

07 April 2014

Why Inheritence Taxes are nothing but feel good wealth redistribution that doesn't work.

Maybe it is just that it is Tax season, but hat tip to Phil at RandomNuclearStrikes for these two links that put forth the pseudo scientific argument that inherited wealth is a bad thing for a meritocratic economy.  That somehow inherited wealth doesn't interact "properly" with a free economic system.


The argument is thus, when the economy sucks, inherited wealth is more valuable because inflation doesn't eat it away as quickly.  If you had a million dollars in 1960 you were quite wealthy.  If you did nothing with that money, by 2014 your million dollars suddenly buys you a whole lot less.

The other reason why the "inherited wealth is bad" argument is utterly stupid is that the people who study multigenerational wealth know that "wealth doesn't last three generations.


If you are sipping a drink, please swallow, and put your glass down before reading the next sentence. Some folks will put forth the argumen that inheritence taxes are just and moral because the government knows how to spend your dollar better than you do. Ok, I'll wait until you all stop laughing and can safely resume enjoying your beverage.

Social justice programs hurt the economy. The "Great Depression" was lengthened by bad policies, and the even "Food Stamps" encourage poor people to buy cheap crap to eat (beverage companies lobby quite hard to keep carbonated luxuries like Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Energy Drink products eligible for the lucrative food stamp market). 

So welfare lets folks stay home, food stamps let them eat crap and get overweight, and "Obamacare" subsidizes their medical costs because of it. Absolutely NONE of those programs are actually helping people get a job and take care of themselves.

Of course, when a Government Program doesn't work, it is never because the people who want to FEEL GOOD ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY CARE FOR THE POOR AND STARVING put actual thought into what helps people the most.

One of the reasons that wealth doesn't last three generations is because everyone wants their children to have the things they didn't have. This is why the "millenials" are so difficult to work with for the Boomers. We got trophies for showing up, we had a program in Elementary school called "Positive Action" where we talked about feelings and treating people nice.

My great grandfathers on each side never finished high school, and were working brutally physical jobs before they finished puberty. Their sons were more successful by some metrics. But the lesson learned is that what helps people become wealthy is a desire to build wealth because you have experienced a lack of it.

When you have never experienced a lack of wealth (because you grew up in a wealthy family) when all that wealth is suddenly yours there is no context for how hard it is to build wealth, and human nature wants to enjoy things NOW instead of maintaining things for the future. This is why wealth disappears, simple human nature.

So if the inherited wealth is gone by the third generation, why would we need an inheritence tax to do anything? Well from a government standpoint it is just another revenue stream. From a moral standpoint the Government has already taxed that wealth, and the wealth will be gone eventually anyways, so any "social justice" wealth redistribution is sheer envy.

I've had people tell me that "because the market rewards people, people have a right to that wealth because they didn't build it alone." And I ask, "If I went panning for gold, and struck it rich, why would someone else have any right to any portion of it?" watch a liberal spit and sputter trying to answer that question, usually it comes down to something like, "Well the state educated you!" or some other implied "debt to society" that is utter bull.

Now here are three competing visions of Tax reform.

The flat tax idea isn't new, and it is still a good one, and it is probably the most workable of all the solutions: http://media.hoover.org/documents/0817993115_127.pdf

To close out, anyone who wants to use the tax code to enforce some form of "social justice" should be horsewhipped, or in the absence of an actual horse whip, pistol whipped.  Barring access to a pistol, a simple curb stomping will suffice.