Saturday, May 30, 2009

Moving on

Well, finally, yesterday was my last day on the job. I have nothing really to say about it, but feel somehow obligated to mark the occasion on this blog. However I might blow my next move, there's no going back in that particular direction. It marks a turning point regardless. 

I make a reasonably good IT guy, though I may be oversensitive to the absurdities of that line of work. I know that I don't know nearly enough about any of what's under my watch to answer to people's projections onto me. I know that given what I do know, I'm not nearly able - there simply aren't the resources - to secure and assure and arrange things in a completely sensible way. So much depends on teaching and training and compliance. I've always known that I should leave the work to the true believers. There are so many of them. I'm pretty skeptical that technology qua technology can continue to make our lives any better. Discretion always being the better part of valor, I must retire from that particular battlefield.

I've had to pay the bills, and like driving on the highway, IT work has been something I'm pretty good at. It takes my full attention, remains interesting and mostly leaves me to myself. But like driving on the highway, which I've done too much of in this job, there's no real accounting for the mental strain, the lack of good physical exercise, and where these things leave you at the end of the day.

I think I might be leaving the "field" at about the right time. Things are teetering on various brinks. Proprietary vs. Open Source. Black hats vs. white hats. Identity theft, privacy, online everything. Cloud computing is pretty cloudy, and mostly because of various issues of trust. I left at the moment of initiating the project I would have liked to start with. Electronic signatures. Doing away with paper. Giving people more time to do what they are good at.

But I remain unsure that there is any good direction for these kinds of technical advances.

For so long as we wish to retain our secrets, there will be some conflict between our "right" to privacy, and the need to put up ever higher walls around ourselves. For so long as we rely on complicated machinery to mediate our daily transactions, there will be no end to the efforts necessary to establish trust. There will always be some divide between the ones who run the machines and the ones who direct their running. 

How many of us were shocked right out of our wanderlust to learn how poorly airline pilots might get paid, after that crash right here in Buffalo? Or should we marvel at how safely we all fly, since the people who do it must clearly love it even more than taxi drivers, bus drivers or IT guys who all get paid so much better and have so much more margin for our error.

I wonder how necessary it really is to spend so much time on firewalls and intrusion detection and other sorts of fear response technologies? Now that President Obama has done the right thing again to announce that cyber security is an issue of national security, right up there with terrorist watching, might it still not be a good time to ask ourselves what this fear might be doing to us?

What is the difference, after all, if the threat is real or virtual? The North Koreans are rattling our cage. We have or should have extreme fears about our loosing nuclear energy upon the world, though at its root the thing which got loosed is a relatively little bit of knowledge. I think it must be a kind of fiction to think that it takes time and power to bring down the powerful. It is the weak we newly fear.

Do defensive technologies really ever leave us safer than without them? MAD defined the world of cold war stockpiles. Our shock and awe clearly failed miserably even in response to terrorist attacks, whatever your take on what might have provoked them in the first place.

So, what might cybersecurity really mean? In principle, "hosts" on the internet leave some trail. In principle, there is some motive behind every attack. But anonymizing is so trivial, and encryption so perfected that we might assume that absent good will, there would be no end to the resources that must be brought to bear to do the proper sleuthing. To read the contextual signals and triangulate on the actual motivating factor so we can squelch it.

Or maybe we'll discover that even the attackers are just bots masquerading their intentions which were only ever to grab our attention for a penny's worth. Maybe the real meltdowns will always be some pilot's error, some regulatory mismatch (some feedback loop which went out of whack to bring down the entire eastern seaboard grid), some fundamental misread of way too much complexity in the first place. Can we even tell the difference in principle between the motivated and the accidental? The crazies and the devoted?

I know I'm not alone applauding Dick Cheney for continuing to flap his lockjaw gums- he's such a good recruiter for the Left. He states our reasons with such utter innocence and clarity. All we need do is provoke some soul to violence by beating him down sufficiently that he starts railing against our machine, and then we can pin on the monster label. No matter how much "collateral" damage gets accomplished along the way. It was our very own revolutionaries who got us started on this American dream. It wasn't done without a lot of blood. Thank God the king's machine was not so nearly perfected then as is this one here and now.

I wonder if it isn't time to start dismantling the castle walls? Well, obviously I don't wonder at all. Tear down the fucking walls. Jesus Christ almighty God in heaven, tear down these God damned walls. I'm not saying terrorists are true rebels for freedom, only that someday soon they might be if we don't tear down these walls.

Isn't there some point beyond which the keeping out is just plain provocation to those on the other side? Isn't there some point beyond which all that is left is terrorism, when your point of view becomes that marginalized? When you have been squeezed out and nothing at all remains to live in except for the cardboard boxes which become your only home in a shrinking commons?

If there can be no more room on the planet for those Dan Quayle famous "happy campers" then isn't there some obligation on the part of the ones living inside the castle walls to admit that they just want all those bugs crushed in the first place? Thank you Dick for all that you are and represent. Thank God you don't represent me any more in any way. May you and all your riches rot in hell. Too bad my words can't hurt you.

Now, back to the main point. We are all implicated here. We live the lives we very much want to live, and can't be bothered by the outsiders who just want in. We even rationalize our fine good fortune as though it's something we have earned.

I wonder what would happen if there were some collective agreement to disclose ever more in public about who we really are in private? It seems that lots of proprietary databases know all sorts of things about where I've lived, how much I've made, how much I have in the bank and how much I don't give to charity.

I'm not sure why I didn't get the memo, but sometime not too very long ago the Feds started sending me my lifetime earnings statement - you know, that one which spells out how far I will have fallen in my entire lifetime's labors from making even half of what those sweetspot earners might make in less than a decade. You know, those people who make that magic quarter mil which allows us to think that maybe we can raise their taxes just a smidge. Who the hell are you, I want to know. Can I please get in on that action?

I rather trust the open source, it gets me beyond the sickening coy of lawyers who won't let their companies admit how much of their data's gotten breached. The second guessing of full disclosure since there might be too much at stake. The keeping mum about security breaches so that, huh?, the innocents don't get a hold of ways to hack, as if the bad guys weren't all over it already?? Do you really want to trust Google and only Google with your search habits? Sure it's gotta be embarrassing to get caught surfing porn, but if you follow the money, you must have a lot of company doing it.

Wouldn't it be interesting if every transaction left an actual trail that was in principle public? Not that anybody would be watching, but they could if they wanted to. That lights out meant lights out, but no money could change hands there.

I think there's a debate on NPR now about the morality of paying for sex. I'd really like to hear it, but I'm hoping I won't be driving enough for that. Here's my take on it: it's just a bad idea, and so unnecessary. But there ought to be actual cash for some such things, right? Drugs, sex, maybe rock and roll. Untraceable petty cash transactions? Or is it already way too late?

I'm not sure I mind what folks could know about me if they wanted to. I'd be a little bit embarrassed by my beer budget for sure, but that might do me some good. I wonder what would happen to all the rest of the folks left hanging out in the shadows?

Or would this just lead to that nightmare scarlet letter; Cheneyism by another name? A mainstream push again, to marginalize everyone who's different.

I'm really not so sure, one way or the other. I mean at least Cheney's consistent; he didn't change his views on gays just to appease his daughter. He's not waterboarding "folks" for thinking differently, just for harboring bloody intentions. 

I'm not so sure that people really care what their neighbors are thinking or doing, so long as it isn't harmful to them. We already mostly know who to stay clear of and why. We mostly always have.

Identify yourself! How about that? To be let in at any gate, you simply have to be willing to state publically who you are, and maybe leave some token to be retrieved at your departure. What would be so very bad about that. I'd go for a national electronic identity. Why not? I need it now even to cross over into Canada, a place I've often felt was home.

The boundary's already been crossed, though we have yet to wake up to that fact. We've already given up any right to privacy, just by agreeing to the credit terms. The phoning, the emailing, the Googling. Why do we trust those corporate entities more than we trust our government? Because GWB thought that we should? At least he has the decency to fade away in silence.

I find myself on just the wrong side now of every legal precedent; all that I once knew was right and good and true. 

How about the government issues our emailing address, as a branch of the Postal system (too bad that's been privatized too)? How about there are no penalties for crossing borders illegally, since you'd have to identify yourself electronically and, well, your whole goshdarned history just appears. And your nationality is the last thing that might disqualify you, since, after all, you took the trouble to get here for some good purpose, right?

They do know where you live already. Why not where you live electronically? Why not say to Google, OK, you can track those searches, but only if they have government issued IDs. Otherwise, it's all trash anyhow. That might help to make the good stuff come out on top, since the folks who would put it there have proven their earnest intentions by telling us who they are.

It's just a silly thought. I'm not sure I really mean any of it. Well, I mean the stuff about Dick Cheney, but I'm not sure about the rest. Might bear some looking in to. Might be a lot less scary than what is going on. Want credit? Want protection? Get an address, and then set rules about what can be tracked. Just about now, it sounds pretty cool to me, but then I'm a reconstructed techie gone over to some other side.

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