Category Archives: Ecology

John Quarterman on Mapping Spam and Politics (audio)

At a meeting on a completely different subject, I was interviewed about Here's the audio, and here's the blurb they supplied:

John S. Quarterman, long time Internet denizen, wrote one of the seminal books about networking prior to the commercialization of the Internet. He co-founded the first Internet consulting firm in Texas (TIC) in 1986, and co-founded one of the first ISPs in Austin (Zilker Internet Park, since sold to Jump Point). He was a founder of TISPA, the Texas ISP Association. Quarterman was born and raised in Lowndes County, where he married his wife Gretchen. They live on the same land where he grew up, and participate in local community and government.

Quarterman took some time during Georgia River Network's Weekend for Rivers to speak with the Nonprofit Snapshot about spam-mapping and small town politics.

More about Elinor Ostrom's Nobel-prize-winning work on organizing the commons, and how that applies to

The water organization has since been incorporated as the Georgia non-profit WWALS Watershed Coalition:

WWALS is an advocacy organization working for watershed conservation of the Willacoochee, Withlacoochee, Alapaha, and Little River Systems watershed in south Georgia and north Florida through awareness, environmental monitoring, and citizen advocacy.


How to leverage botnet takedowns

What is to be done when botnet takedowns don’t produce lasting benefits?

At the Telecommunications Policy and Research Conference in Arlington, VA in September, I gave a paper about Rustock Botnet and ASNs. Most of the paper is about effects of a specific takedown (March 2011) and a specific slowdown (December 2010) on specific botnets (Rustock, Lethic, Maazben, etc.) and specific ASNs (Korea Telecom’s AS 4766, India’s National Internet Backbone’s AS 9829, and many others).

The detailed drilldowns also motivate a higher level policy discussion.

Knock one down, two more pop up: Whack-a-mole is fun, but not a solution. Need many more takedowns, oor many more organizations playing. How do we get orgs to do that? …
There is extensive theoretical literature that indicates Continue reading

Solving for the Commons

So simple!

BN > BE + C

Aldo Cortesi channels Elinor Ostrom and summarizes what we need to fix Internet security by enticing the providers and users of the Internet to manage it as a commons. But first, some background.

Since at least 1997 (“Is the Internet a Commons?” Matrix News, November 1997) I’ve been going on about how Garrett Hardin’s idea of the tragedy of the commons doesn’t have to apply to the Internet, because: Continue reading

Further Hardin Debunking

yacouba.jpg Regarding Perry’s comment to the previous post, the point is that the specific example on which Hardin based his thesis, the one everyone cites in support of it, is not borne out by the evidence, not that he presented any evidence for it in the first place.

Further, that it’s not a tragedy in the sense Hardin meant: that of a Greek tragedy in which a flaw of character inevitably leads to the demise of the protagonist. Individuals are not inevitably disposed to claw out their own at the expense of everyone else. Sometimes people realize that there really is such a thing as the common good; that benefiting everyone benefits themselves.

Yes, I know about the Sahara and the Sahel; I’ve been there; I’ve seen the goats gnawing away at everything.

The solution is not state central planning: you cite Chinese lakes; I’ll cite the Aral Sea.

The solution is also not privatization of the commons: look at the wildfires in the U.S. west exacerbated by subdivisions built in forests.

Solutions that work seem to involve combinations of innovation, education, and especially cooperation. Like this one:

In the late 1970s, when the problems of desertification, combined with population growth, drought and grinding poverty in West Africa first began to get sustained global attention, the prognosis was mostly gloom and doom. And as has been well documented, foreign aid has been less than successful in improving matters. In Yahenga, Reij and Fabore note, efforts to modernize agriculture through large-scale mechanized operations usually failed, for a variety of reasons. The spread of zai hole planting spearheaded by Sawadogo was mostly carried out by the local farmers themselves, with limited support from the government or foreign donors. Those with access to labor dug the holes, and used local sources of organic manure to fill them.

A tree grows in the Sahel, Andrew Leonard, How the World Works, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006 11:22 PDT

The “free market” isn’t enough. Cooperation on scales from local to global is also needed. And it does happen, despite Garrett Hardin’s myth that it can’t.


Debunking the Tragedy of the Commons

x7579e05.gif Interesting article here making a point that should have been obvious for forty years. When Garrett Hardin published his famous article about the “tragedy of the commons” in Science in December 1968, he cited no evidence whatsoever for his assertion that a commons would always be overgrazed; that community-owned resources would always be mismanaged. Quite a bit of evidence was already available, but he ignored it, because it said quite the opposite: villagers would band together to manage their commons, including setting limits (stints) on how many animals any villager could graze, and they would enforce those limits.

Finding evidence for Hardin’s thesis is much harder:

The only significant cases of overstocking found by the leading modern expert on the English commons involved wealthy landowners who deliberately put too many animals onto the pasture in order to weaken their much poorer neighbours’ position in disputes over the enclosure (privatisation) of common lands (Neeson 1993: 156).

Hardin assumed that peasant farmers are unable to change their behaviour in the face of certain disaster. But in the real world, small farmers, fishers and others have created their own institutions and rules for preserving resources and ensuring that the commons community survived through good years and bad.

Debunking the `Tragedy of the Commons’, By Ian Angus, Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal, August 24, 2008

So privatization is not, as so many disciples of Hardin have argued, the cure for the non-existant tragedy of the commons. Rather, privatization can be the enemy of the common management of common resources.

What does this have to do with risk management? Well, insurance is the creation of a managed commons by pooling resources. Catastrophe bonds are another form of pooled resources, that is, a form of a commons.

On the Internet, the big problem with fighting risks like phishing, pharming, spam, and DDoS attacks is that the victims will fail if they go it alone. The Internet is a commons, and pretending that it isn’t is the problem. Most people and companies don’t abuse the Internet. But a few, such as spam herders and some extremist copyright holders (MPAA, RIAA), do. They need to be given stints by the village.


Bananas and Apples: Another Monoculture

banana-bunch_d.gif Yes, we will have no bananas, again:

Most commercial growing facilities handle just a single banana type — the one we Americans slice into our morning cereal.

How much time is left for the Cavendish? Some scientists say five years; some say 10. Others hold out hope that it will be much longer. Aguilar has his own particular worst-case scenario, his own nightmare. "What happens," he says, with a very intent look, "is that Panama disease comes before we have a good replacement. What happens then," he says, nearly shuddering in the shade of a towering banana plant, "is that people change. To apples."

Can This Fruit Be Saved? By Dan Koeppel,, June 2005

Cavendish is the variety of banana eaten the world around. "Quite possibly the world’s perfect food," says Chiquita. But perfection comes with a price if it leads to monoculture. And that’s what we’ve got with bananas: every commercial Cavendish banana tree is grown from cuttings of the original tree, and so is genetically identical. Banana monoculture has borne the fruit of disaster before.

Growers adopted a frenzied strategy of shifting crops to unused land, maintaining the supply of bananas to the public but at great financial and environmental expense — the tactic destroyed millions of acres of rainforest. By 1960, the major importers were nearly bankrupt, and the future of the fruit was in jeopardy. (Some of the shortages during that time entered the fabric of popular culture; the 1923 musical hit "Yes! We Have No Bananas" is said to have been written after songwriters Frank Silver and Irving Cohn were denied in an attempt to purchase their favorite fruit by a syntactically colorful, out-of-stock neighborhood grocer.) U.S. banana executives were hesitant to recognize the crisis facing the Gros Michel, according to John Soluri, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Banana Cultures, an upcoming book on the fruit. "Many of them waited until the last minute."

Denial in the face of a clear and present ecological danger. We’ve seen this before.

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What It Will Take to Win

gp.jpg IT and Internet security people and companies act mostly as an aftermarket. Meanwhile, the black hats are a well-integrated economy of coders, bot herders, and entrepeneurs. This is what it will take for the white hats to win:
It can seem overwhelming for security people who are typically housed in a separate organization, to begin to engage with software developers and architects to implement secure coding practices in an enterprise. While the security team may know that there are security vulnerabilities in the systems, they have to be able to articulate the specific issues and communicate some ideas on resolutions. This can be a daunting task especially if the security team does not have a prior workign relationship with the development staff, and understand their environment.

The task seems daunting also because there are so many developers compared to security people. I am here to tell you though that you don’t have to win over every last developer to make some major improvements. In my experience a small percentage of developers write the majority of code that actually goes live. The lead developers (who may be buried deep in the org charts) are the ones you need to engage, in many cases they really don’t want to write insecure code, they just lack the knowledge of how to build better. Once you have a relationship (i.e. that you are not just there to audit and report on them, but are there to help *build* more secure code) it is surprisingly easy to get security improvements into a system, especially if the design is well thought and clearly articulated. You don’t have get the proverbial stardotstar, each and every developer on board to make positive improvements, it can be incremental. See some more specific ideas on phasing security in the SD! LC here. In meantime, with security budgets increasing 20% a year, use some of that money to take your top developers out to lunch.

Secure Coding – Getting Buy In, Gunnar Peterson, 1Raindrop, 17 Sep 2007

The start of what it will take.


Bill Gates Considered as Evil Primitive Bacterium

archaea-tree-woese.jpg Has Freeman Dyson become an evolution denier?

Whatever Carl Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his "New Biology" article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell, anticipating Bill Gates by three billion years, separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species of bacteria—and the first species of any kind—reserving their intellectual property for their own private use. With their superior efficiency, the bacteria continued to prosper and to evolve separately, while the rest of the community continued its communal life. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became the ancestor of the archea. Some time after that, a third cell separated itself and became the ancestor of the eukaryotes. And so it went on, until nothing was left of the community and all life was divided into species. The Darwinian interlude had begun.

Our Biotech Future, By Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books, Volume 54, Number 12 · July 19, 2007

Has he sold out for an admittedly very fetching simile?

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Connectivity: Engulf or Participate?

circulo_xavante.jpg Can’t pass up an article with “Peril” in its title:
“I don’t think it’s a good thing, because it’s a threat to our culture,” said Tsereptse, who carries a bow and arrow with him at all times as a symbol of his position.

Some of the tribe’s younger members have been trying to convince Tsereptse that computers will have the exact opposite effect — that they can be tools to record and preserve Xavante folklore and traditions, and to disseminate them all over the world.

Awaiting Internet Access, Remote Brazilian Tribes Debate Its Promise, Peril,By Monte Reel, Washington Post Foreign Service, Friday, July 6, 2007; Page A08

These are members of the Xavante tribe in Mato Grosso state in Brazil. They don’t have electricity yet, but they’ve decided to get Internet access. Why? Continue reading

Wildfire Myopia

smoke.gif It looks like technological security isn’t the only kind disorganized in government. The latest GAO report about wildfires seems like more smoke than fire:

This testimony summarizes several key actions that federal agencies need to complete or take to strengthen their management of the wildland fire program, including the need to (1) develop a long-term, cohesive strategy to reduce fuels and address wildland fire problems and (2) improve the management of their efforts to contain the costs of preparing for and responding to wildland fires.

For cost-containment efforts to be effective, the agencies need to integrate cost-containment goals with the other goals of the wildland fire program–such as protecting life, resources, and property–and to recognize that trade-offs will be needed to meet desired goals within the context of fiscal constraints.

Wildland Fire Management: A Cohesive Strategy and Clear Cost-Containment Goals Are Needed for Federal Agencies to Manage Wildland Fire Activities Effectively, GAO-07-1017T, U.S. General Accounting Office, June 19, 2007

How about a strategy for integrating wildfire planning into subdivision planning, or cost allocations from homeowner wildfire insurance?

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