Skip to content


Future of the university

I saw an article in the New York Times and other places about the future of the University, and even the End of the University. I have a bit of a curiosity about this topic as Lecturer at Brandeis University. Here's a blog post from a Professor of Philsophy at Calvin College analyzing those articles and giving his own perspective, where he says:

I'm very sympathetic to trying to move beyond the department-as-fortress model which currently dominates higher education, despite all of our talk of interdisciplinarity. While we might have a veneer of cross-disciplinary collaboration, the department-as-fortress rears its ugly head whenever we start talking about curricular reform (say, revising the core curriculum of a college)-very quickly principled discussion of what constitutes a good education devolves into a matter of protecting faculty "lines" in "our" department. (from : The End of the University?)

Really interesting article, with a good insight at the end, which had not occurred to me:

"[…snip…] So one scholar will be considering biological issues, another political issues, another aesthetic questions, another ethical and philosophical issues and so. Sounds fabulous. But where did these scholars receive their training in biology, political science, and philosophy? […snip…]"

The Tor Anonymizer

Have you heard of this thing, the Tor Anonymizer? Ok again admittedly another highly geeky system, but pretty fascinating. Makes you think that the handwringing worrying of the security wonks isn't as over the top as all that.

Tor is a sophisticated privacy tool designed to prevent tracking of where a web user surfs on the internet and with whom a user communicates. It's endorsed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other civil liberties groups as a method for whistleblowers and human-rights workers to communicate with journalists, among other uses. (from Rogue Nodes Turn Tor Anonymizer Into Eavesdropper's Paradise

Read the article, it's a fascinating look into the world of security.

Mathematical Foundations of Consciousness?

Say what? I came across this paper; Mathematical Foundations of Consciousness. I generally love this stuff: Mathematics and writings on the nature of consciousness. When I saw this paper the title really intrigued me. Now my math is not strong enough to tackle anything like PhD level math (in fact my math knowledge beyond under graduate level is definitely uneven.)

"The self-referential qualities of consciousness place it outside conventional logic(s) upon which scientific models and frameworks have heretofore been constructed. However more contemporary mathematical development has begun to deal with features of self-reference. We shall address Schrödinger’s critique by assembling and extending such development thereby putting self-reference as a form of awareness into theory. In this way we shall frame mathematical foundations for a theory of consciousness." (from Mathematical Foundations of Consciousnes)

As I said, my math is weak, so I am not appreciating it, but to me this paper came across as a bunch of fancy mathematics with only peripheral thinking about consciousness.

Location Proofs

The more businesses reward me for showing up at their establishments, the more likely it will be that a bad guy would want to pretend that they were there to garner those rewards.

I came across a very interesting paper that proposes the notion of 'location proofs.': Enabling new mobile applications with location proofs)

From the paper: "Location is rapidly becoming the next “killer application” as location-enabled mobile handheld devices proliferate. One class of applications that has yet-to-emerge are those in which users have an incentive to lie about their location. These applications cannot rely solely on the users’ devices to discover and transmit location information because users have an incentive to cheat. Instead, such applications require their users to prove their locations. Unfortu- nately, today’s mobile users lack a mechanism to prove their cur- rent or past locations. Consequently, these applications have yet to take off despite their potential." (from Enabling new mobile applications with location proofs)

I think something like this is inevitable, but it will have be invisible because it's too geeky..

All about passwords

Continuing my quest to get into the subtleties of security and measures to protect against 'bad guys.' I came across an interesting article in the New York Times, about choosing passwords. One of the fundamental questions that i grapple with is the right way to think about the tradeoff between measures to protect against 'what might happen' and the ill effects or unintended consequences of those measures on real life. Typical example: if you require people to have long complicated passwords to protect their logins, they end up writing them down or emailing them around which is a lot worse. Anyway, here's a bit from the article:

"At the Usenix Workshop on Hot Topics in Security conference, held last month in Washington, the three suggested that Web sites with tens or hundreds of millions of users, could let users choose any password they liked — as long as only a tiny percentage selected the same one. That would render a list of most often used passwords useless: by limiting a single password to, say, 100 users among 10 million, the odds of an attacker getting lucky on one attempt per account are astronomically long, Mr. Herley explained in a conversation last month." (from The New York Times)

The Effect of Snakeoil Security: wheels within wheels

As you can imagine I've been reading and learning more about security with my work in Elections ( It's a hall of mirrors and I struggle to really grasp when a possible threat is worse than the cure for it -- in real world terms, rather than theoretical terms.This article is perceptive and deep and easy to understand at the surface, but hard to understand profoundly: The Effect of Snakeoil Security from web application security lab:

This goes back to the bear in the woods analogy that I personally hate. The story goes that you don’t have to run faster than the bear, you just have to run faster than the guy next to you. While that’s a funny story, that only works if there are two people and you only encounter one bear. In a true ecosystem you have many many people in the same business, and you have many attackers. If you leave your competitor(s) out to dry that may seem good for you in the short term, but in reality you’re feeding your attacker(s). (from:The Effect of Snakeoil Security)

Why I now have an email signature

We've been on an SEO binge over the last 4-6 weeks. I've been educating myself by listening and reading to everything I can find my hands on.

What's SEO anyway? It stands for "Search Engine Optimization" and it refers to the science and art of getting your site to come up when people are searching with Google or one of the other search engines.

As I tell the story to many people, I summarize what I've learned by noting that it's all more or less common sense, once you hear it. But for some reason common sense isn't always so common. The source that I have learned the most from (and where I've learned to really appreciate educational podcasts is the "Beginning SEO podcast" from

To illustrate common sense, here is how you can put a subtler and deeper interpretation to the above sentence.


SEO is the science and art of…

  1. … getting your site to come up when people are searching

  2. … getting your site to come up when people who have never heard of your site are searching…

  3. … getting your site to come up when people who have never heard of your site are searching and getting them to look at it…

  4. getting your site to come up when people who have never heard of your site are searching, not any time but specifically when they are ina mindset to act , and getting them to look…

  5. getting your site to come up when people who have never heard of your site are searching and in a mindset to act, and getting them to look, and then actuallyplace an order , sign up, or whatever it is you want them to do…

If you bother to actually read those repetitive sentences, each one is a logical and common sense step beyond the preceding one, but many people - including me, pre-enlightenment, never get beyond level one. There's a whole lot more to it than that of course but even that little bit may be a profound insight for someone who never gave it any thought.

So what about that email signature? Well one of the episodes of my favorite podcast talks about the other things you can do to help people to actually come to your site, in a mindset to act, and then doing whatever you want them to do.

And this one is so common sense and yet for years now I have not done it.

Starting today, everyone who I correspond to in email will have this friendly little signature line at the end of it:

----------------------------------------- Check this out:

Originally posted on Aug 02, 2007. Reprinted courtesy of ReRuns plug-in.

High Reactives

What are high reactives?

"Temperament is a complex, multilayered thing, and for the sake of clarity, Kagan was tracking it along a single dimension: whether babies were easily upset when exposed to new things. He chose this characteristic both because it could be measured and because it seemed to explain much of normal human variation. He suspected, extrapolating from a study he had just completed on toddlers, that the most edgy infants were more likely to grow up to be inhibited, shy and anxious. Eager to take a peek at the early results, he grabbed the videotapes of the first babies in the study, looking for the irritable behavior he would later call high-reactive." (from Understanding the Anxious Mind)

This is quite a long article which I won't attempt to summarize here. It argues for an interesting explanation and clarification about why certain people tend to react certain ways, differently to different kinds of stimulus. This is from the conclusion:

"An anxious temperament might serve a more exalted function too. “Our culture has this illusion that anxiety is toxic,” Kagan said. But without inner-directed people who prefer solitude, where would we get the writers and artists and scientists and computer programmers who make society hum? Kagan likes to point out that T. S. Eliot suffered from anxiety, and that biographies indicate that he was a typical high-reactive baby. “That line ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ — he couldn’t have written that without feeling the tension and dysphoria he did,” Kagan said." (from Understanding the Anxious Mind)

If this kind of stuff interest you, you might try tackling the whole article 🙂

Originally posted on Oct 11, 2009. Reprinted courtesy of ReRuns plug-in.

Do you remember “Twin Peaks”?

"Harry, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it,, don't wait for it, just … let it happen. Could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black coffee…"(Dale Cooper, in Twin Peaks)

Don't ask me why, the quote just strikes me as funny!

Originally posted on Apr 28, 2007. Reprinted courtesy of ReRuns plug-in.