…the wanderings

Dowsing and the Art of Suspending Disbelief

It is important to understand when you should suspend your disbelief. You may want to do so to (1) let a hypothesis sink into your head for analysis or, (2) when you are engaging with fantasy. But, certainly not when you are about to decide if you will accept something purported as a fact.

I saw the movie Avatar some time back. It was one of those times when I suspended my disbelief — as the White Queen so aptly puts it, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast“. Must remember to avoid turning into a sheep after that though.

That reminded me of a book I had stumbled upon earlier at a local bookstore. It was on the subject (or rather the art) of Dowsing.

This is a concept (not a technology, I emphasize) apparently used to find many things ranging from water to explosives (and even jade in some cases; particularly stolen jade, it seems).

When I read the authors plea to suspend my disbelief, red flags turned up in my head. We are not discussing Star Wars; there has to be more explaining to do here. One cannot get away with statements like “But, we don’t understand enough about gravity and black-holes either“. There is a lot we do understand and we have many reproducible results.

Reproducibility is important — try walking off the edge of a cliff. No matter how many times you survive to repeat that, the results will always be unsurprisingly similar. You can do it in the dark, on a Monday or in stormy weather and still not get surprised.

So, when we do not understand anything about say, working of Homeopathy, and there are no recorded reproductions, we cannot leave the argument to a future breakthrough in science (sic) and continue to suspend our disbelief…

Many of us think “so what if I don’t understand how it works as long as it gives results. Someday science and medicine will be advanced enough to understand it“. Well, that was the case for Bloodletting too, and we know what happened there. Yet, phlebotomy is used in specific conditions today, just like Homeopathy might be used for its placebo effects in very specific conditions (and I reserve my objection to that).

We don’t do the same simple mistakes again — things get more complicated. While bloodletting was fatal, it appears that Homeopathy has no such harmful effects. However, using and promoting Homeopathy is like suppression of good medicine and science. Every time it is used and a placebo success is registered, there is a false-positive win for Homeopathy that will very likely be used to push it further (as a medicine; which it is not). The harm is ever present and much more subtle to be detected now.

Let us remember that there are no true-positive records of its success over the years it is has been in practice; nothing without a suspension of disbelief.

Here is an interesting couple of contexts in which the phrase “suspend disbelief” has been used and I invite you to look at the actual works from the references given alongside. I found the juxtaposition of these two quotes amazing! Depending on your interests you might find one or both of the books a very good read in various respects.

Art of Dowsing: The Art of Discovering Water, Treasure, Gold, Oil, Artifacts
By Richard Webster.

A quote from the introduction chapter,

One of the fascinating things about dowsing is that virtually everyone can do it, provided they are prepared to suspend disbelief. I have proven this numerous times in my own classes. Many people experience a dowsing response right away, and are enthralled with their success. Some, however, fail to get any response. I ask these people to pretend that they can dowse. To their amazement, they find that by imagining they can do it, they really can. Their expressions of surprise and disbelief are a joy to behold.

A quote here from another book, Dowsing for Beginners by the same author.
Funnily enough, children usually find it easy to dowse. It is only adults who find it hard. Once they are willing to suspend their disbelief, it suddenly becomes easy for them as well“.

The Art of Avatar
By Lisa Fitzpatrick, Preface by Peter Jackson.

The book has an opening chapter “Suspension of Disbelief” with these words,

“The suspension of disbelief”. That phrase has long been used as a way of describing the necessary relationship between filmmaker and the audiance. It’s a quaint, slightly cynical concept, in which both participants admit that “we know this is a lot of nonsense, but let’s forget about that for a couple of hours and allow ourselves to have some fun”. The suspension of disbelief is an unspoken contract that has served the needs of moviegoers and moviemakers for over one hundred years.

ps: please respect my strong resistance to comment around these two quotes.

Starter references on Detection of explosives with Dowsing.
The Device: ADE_651.
One short interaction at the DowsingCommunity – -you’ll find a lot more if you look around.
News and discussion on the Dowsing Rod Bomb Detector.

January 26, 2011 Posted by | reading | , , , | 1 Comment

DDoS Wars

A DDoS attack is easier to inflect compared to the effort necessary in deflecting or defending against it. Think of it as Gurrilla Warefare ensued with a herd of Zombies.

That is exactly what a Botnet based DDoS attack represents in the networking world. Coercion replaces loyalty as Malware perpetrates through the network to increase the size of a herd. All you need is the right triggers (like people who will click through links) and crowd-sourcing takes over. Last year Craig Labovitz at Arbor described a DDoS at over 30Gbps on an Asian mobile operator. It is likely to have been done with a herd numbering in 10s of thousands rather than the order of million botnets known to exist today.

This is a new turn to what was ‘affectionately’ called the Slashdot Effect in earlier days but, with a bad twist. Traffic is intentionally diverted by a botnet herder. Their target might be popular but does not really appreciate (nor can benefit from) the incoming volume.

First thing to note about a DDoS (or DoS in general) is the fact that trying to throttle such an attack is actually playing in the hands of the attacker — a self-inflicted denial-of-service. Trying a selective block is not very fruitful when the attack is distributed well over the Internet landscape and, laden with guerrilla tactics.

It is more of a pipe-dream to expect everyone will protect their end-hosts from
Malware attempts to subvert and assimilate into a growing botnet. And waiting for a curseder (good-guy) that will spread along the malware channels to wipe out the bad-boys has its own risks.

At a higher level, the Internet infrastructure could analyze elements of such a botnet and attempt to sterilize it (a quick and more generally visible example is OpenDNS).

If a potential target (company, nation; Google?) can afford distributed hosting on the Internet, it would make an intimidating challenge to the botnet with multiple points that need to be compromised before a successful DDoS is achieved. This is when a larger Botnet will have to rear its head for a Multiple DDoS.

As malware writers get more sophisticated, the attack itself is more silent and versatile. But, DDoS is not a one-way tool and can be used by both sides. Around the start of this month, Aiplex Software was hired by the likes of MPAA and RIAA to attack piracy sites. This instigated a retaliation which is currently in progress (www.aiplex.com is off-line as of this writing). So, which side wins with this? None, I guess if anyone benefits, it would be the RBN, and ultimately terrorist organizations, probably.

But, this is not yet the end of this story and over time I expect we will hear more on this round of DDoS.

Meanwhile, you can catch the background on this from a recent non-fiction book Fatal System Error – The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet, by Joseph Menn. It runs though an account of such warfare over the last decade taking specific examples (see Prolexic).

The Prolexic timeline showing DDoS progress

DDoS Evolution (Prolexic)

September 30, 2010 Posted by | reading, security | , , , , | Leave a comment

100 Percent CAT

The morning article on CAT 2010 results declared a “cent per cent” marks result. This was something that needed a second glance. Not to wonder about abilities of Ankit Garg or his percentile-band-mates to reach there, but the scoring system itself that declared someone had reach a full score — a cent-per-cent, total 100! Or, maybe doubt secondary articles that reflect these results to the people.

I quote from a couple of articles that sample what you are probably reading today morning.

The CAT is out of the bag, and Ankit Garg is rolling in the satin. The 21-year-old from Chandigarh is among the rarest of the rare who landed cent per cent marks in the Common Admission Test (CAT) 2010, the entrance exam to India’s elite B-schools, including the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

City lad Ankit Garg brought laurels to Chandigarh by scoring 100 percentile in the Common Aptitude Test (CAT). The result was declared on Sunday.

An examination system (and many a school exams will qualify to be quoted here) is not good enough if students score a 100. That is a reference point never to be touched. Just like your car has a 220 Kmph mark on the odometer and your music system has a 100-percent setting on the volume knob but you don’t go there (remember that old Michael Jackson video showing a volume knob with “Are you Nuts?”). When you need to touch that maximum number it means you need better technology. Likewise, if you see an examination being ‘cracked’ by someone with a 100 percent score, you need to upgrade the examination (of course laud the cracker too).

All this does not sound right for CAT, they should know this already. CAT scores are not disclosed, its the percentile that is declared. The result is therefore normalized within 1 and 99 percentile (not 100 as many would like to say).

How does one then interpret the Economic Times and the Indian Express articles? A “cent per cent” or “scoring 100 percentile” is actually to be (safely) taken as a 99 percentile score.

Congratulations to Ankit Garg, Vivek Gupta and the top-band scorers of CAT 2010. May you live in interesting times where our media can describe your achivements better.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | writing | , , , | 1 Comment

What is Bad Science

After my last post on down-voting a book categorized as non-fiction and science, it seems only fair that I give an alternative reference on what might be a goodread rather than that work. I cannot find an exact complement for that book, but here is one that can take the place for now.

Book Cover: Bad Science  by Ben Goldacre
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.

There is a nice Wikipedia page on this book, so I won’t have to put in a lot of effort to compare it with the one in my last post. My Book Probe hit a true on this one and I have already read it since then. If you came here checking out the Michael Brooks book or looking for material on Placebo, Homeopathy and the likes, I suggest you check this work first before venturing into the 13 things that don’t make sense.

You can also check out a free chapter, “The Doctor Will Sue You Now” available as a PDF file.

PS: I am very happy to tag this post ‘science’.

February 22, 2010 Posted by | reading | , , | Leave a comment

Things just don’t make sense

Book Probe: these are small bits from my search on good books to read.
These things cannot be called reviews, because I have not yet read the book; its the decision of reading it that is being concluded here.

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time,
Michael Brooks.

There are some books on ‘science’ that — thankfully — highlight their bias of research/facts very easily. It is because authors put up more details like this that I get more time checking rest of the books.

That chapter description strikes out Michael Brooks from my science reading list.
Still have doubts?

I wonder how many intrigued people will jump at a possible opportunity of learning new science after checking the profile on his site,

“Michael Brooks, who holds a PhD in quantum physics, is an author, journalist and broadcaster. He is a consultant at NewScientist, a weekly magazine with over three quarters of a million readers worldwide, and the author of the acclaimed non-fiction title 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense and the techno-thriller Entanglement.”

I may however consider his fiction work, Entanglement. He seems to have a knack for these things. It takes a bit more than Escher-works to research anomalies.
PS: I could not make myself tag this post under ‘science’.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | reading | , | Leave a comment

Nissan take on the Spinner

Some 40 years ago, Philip K. Dick penned a story of dark times with flying cars and unstable androids who wanted a life of their own. Almost two decades later, Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner which was (surprisingly for Scott) a much diluted dystopia (guess PKD was a bit too much for him).

The film and the book both have many things to talk about — and this post is not really about them. There is one thing notable with recent news. The Spinner flying cars from the plot represented a futuristic vehicle that was capable of being driven over ground and flying through air. Sound was necessary for proper effects and the moving cars were shown to give off a high-pitched whistling noise (sound is important, check the Star Wars space ship noises and compare them to the 2001: A Space Odyssey silence). Many movies picked up this theme of flying cars and some even represented the sound made by these cars. One always wondered what sound advanced technologies would make as they replaced the engines of today.

Well, Nissan has taken a different problem to solve for their new silent electric and hybrid cars. You need to have some noise to make a car safe for the external world. Curiously, they decided to use the Spinner’s whistle for this.

We have seen a lot of technology inspired by science fiction, this is a different one.
Maybe we will see really silent glass lift doors with the StarTrek sound-effects to remind people when they operate.

September 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

What could become the next Conficker (if we had Vista)

A recent advisory from Microsoft (Microsoft Security Advisory (975497)) says Vulnerabilities in SMB Could Allow Remote Code Execution. This “SMB2 zero day” is focused on the Microsoft VIsta and Server 2008 systems.

Researchers show mixed feelings while all the tools for using it are available in the wild.

If Vista were as wide spread as the Windows XP it would have become a potential addition to the Conficker troupe. Interestingly, even the Windows 7 (gaining momentum at the moment) does not seem vulnerable. Which does not preclude Conficker writers themselves of deciding to add this new ‘tool’ to their variations. Return-On-Investments may be the only reason they would not target Vista…

September 12, 2009 Posted by | security | , , | Leave a comment

40 Years of Internet

The Internet goes 40 years shortly. This post is a snapshot of some things I see at the moment.

1. Conficker continues to proliferate
2. EBay to Sell Skype Stake to Group Led by Silver Lake
3. Opera allows you to host a web-site right off your laptops and desktops
4. You get DDoS Botnets on rent
And, we get back to Tetris as the best exercise for the brains (that one is un-numbered, leave it out :-).

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Malware with and around Opera Unite

A couple of weeks back I raised a concern about Botnets being Controlled with Twitter.

Security of Opera Unite itself is quite dubious. Here is a recent dissection of Unite technology referred by a friend. The attacker will eventually have the option of using their own local Unite hosted sites and probably even a couple of other pawned ones.

September 1, 2009 Posted by | security | , , | Leave a comment

Twitter Command and Control

Recent news about Twitter being used as a Botnet Command Center sounds so natural. At the risk of sounding like a second-guess, it appears like the most simple control path (barring only the frequent down times prone with Twitter service).

Couple that with the Opera Unite concepts and you have a good mobile threat vector. Yes, the Unite technology is also still being stabilized. But, that should not stop us from predicting some threat scenarios we are about to encounter in the near future (“near” as against the usual Science-Fiction measure of future).

I have similar feelings on Facebook, but have never had the patience to hover there long enough to give more thought.

August 16, 2009 Posted by | security | , , | Leave a comment