January 27th, 2014

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators.

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
— Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

This reminds me that a previous employer of mine had tried — with two other very large tech-related firms in the area — to more-or-less collude on hiring staff, under the guise of better workload management. The theory went that since the resource demands of each of the three didn’t match up very well, that they could simply share staff between each other, moving the resources to where the workload was. As I understand it, the plan was scotched when legal advice intimated that the obvious side effect of suppressing competition for employees was almost certainly illegal.

the future of networking

January 27th, 2014

Predictions are dangerous things. We — humans, that is — are notoriously terrible at predicting the future, and continually get caught out by retroactively “obvious” developments.

Having said that, I’m reasonably comfortable that software-defined networking has a place in the future world of network equipment, and that as a result, the role of a network engineer will morph from being skilled in one or more vendor platforms to being skilled in one or more vendor platforms and a programming language, such as Python. In fact the best network engineers will likely have a role that looks more like business analysis than e-plumber. Python, and languages like it, will likely provide a means to that end.

Software-defined networking doesn’t really deal with moving bits fast: equipment from a range of vendors already does that, and does it pretty well. In fact, SDN doesn’t really provide anything that can’t be done with existing equipment; what SDN provides is (theoretically, at least) a simpler way to provide a given business solution.

I also predict that — as a side-effect of this trend — the average network engineer will have to become a lot more comfortable with commodity operating environments, and in particular, Linux. While SDN controller software runs quite well in a range of environments (that being part of its point, after all!), Linux is apparently becoming a default choice for a range of related environments, including OpenStack and several virtual (and real!) routing and switching platforms.

on expertise

January 20th, 2014

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all. By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields. Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live.

Another way to say this: people are now wont to believe that the phrase, “my ignorance is as good as your knowledge” holds actual water.


January 17th, 2014

Pharmacists have become the latest targets of sophisticated computer hacks known as ransomware attacks, which lock up PCs until victims pay up.

Once the hackers plant the virus, the files on a computer become encrypted and unable to be accessed.

I doubt very much that there’s targeting going on; instead I predict that they’ve been subject to bad luck and poor security practices.

It’s appropriate though to point out that proper off-site and off-line backups are a critical component of any business disaster recovery plan.

the cost of progress

January 17th, 2014

GDP simply measures a nation’s raw economic activity in terms of production and consumption. It makes no attempt to factor in the depletion of natural resources or the degradation of the environment. It cares not for income inequality and all the ills that come with it. It doesn’t pretend to discriminate between beneficial economic activity (new infrastructure, investment in education, disease prevention, etc) and negative activity (the cost of crime, pollution, etc). And it entirely ignores whole swathes of fruitful activity, such as housework or volunteering in the community.

One sign of how destitute GDP is as a metric of well-being is that it tends to go up after a natural disaster. Reconstruction and remediation spur intense activity that is registered by GDP, while the destruction, lives lost, suffering and disruption to families and communities in the wake of a flood, cyclone or bushfire are ignored.

GDP is not, and was never designed to be, a measure of a nation’s well-being. Even its creator, Simon Kuznets, said in 1934 that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income”.

legal interactions

January 16th, 2014

While this is most specific to the United States, I’d suggest it’s something the average motorcyclist needs to consider when talking to employees of the Queensland Police Service as well:

Are there mundane situations in which you might rationally decide to talk to the cops — say, if a neighbor’s house is burglarized, and they come to ask if you saw anything? Sure. But you should view each interaction with the cops with an extreme caution bordering on paranoia, as you would handle a dangerous wild animal.

Should it be this way? No.


January 4th, 2014

Linksys and Netgear devices allow unauthenticated remote access:

A hacker has found a backdoor to wireless combination router/DSL modems that could allow an attacker to reset the router’s configuration and gain access to the administrative control panel. The attack, confirmed to work on several Linksys and Netgear DSL modems, exploits an open port accessible over the wireless local network.

The backdoor requires that the attacker be on the local network, so this isn’t something that could be used to remotely attack DSL users. However, it could be used to commandeer a wireless access point and allow an attacker to get unfettered access to local network resources.