When good security is a problem itself

April 11, 2012 2:10 pm

NPR's article, "Spate Of Bomb Threats Annoys Pittsburgh Students" got me thinking about the unintended consequences of implementing good security.  Even ignoring the other issues involved like civil rights violations and creating easily attacked lines.

Reacting to every threat has at least two detrimental effects: denial of service and complacency.

The first, and most immediate, is the ability for an adversary to shut down a system without doing anything but writing a letter, making a phone call, or posting something on the Internet.

In computer security we call this type of attack a denial of service (DOS) attack.  With a computer it is usually achieved by making legitimate requests at such a frequency as to bog down the machine and prevent it from responding to normal users.

In this case, however, it's making threats and forcing law enforcement to respond.  This has two effects.  The first is that it takes law enforcement away from legitimate calls (denying those people of the service of law enforcement).  The second is when law enforcement responds by shutting down or drastically reducing the functionality of the threatened target (denying service to customers of that target).

In the article the students are queued up waiting to go through a security checkpoint in order to get on campus.  In airports they might clear the gates and require everyone to go through security again.  In either case massive amounts of time and money are wasted.  The attacker has done nothing, but still managed to mess with their target.

In this manner terrorists could cause billions of dollars in losses to our economy simply by calling in threats to airports, shopping malls, schools, stadiums, etc.  And given our level of unwarranted fear, what law enforcement agency is going to do nothing when they receive a threat like that?  If they're wrong no one will listen to arguments about likelihood, corroborating evidence, etc.

The second detrimental effect is complacency or "the boy who cried wolf" effect.  One technique used to bypass an alarm system is to repeatedly trip the alarm, but do nothing else.  Eventually the people responding to the alarm may begin to delay responding presuming it's another false alarm.  Or in the best case (from the attacker's view) they may turn off the alarm altogether.

If they do continue responding to the alarm then they're faced with a dilemma: How many times do you respond to an alarm at cost $X per response before you can no longer afford to respond?  How many airports do you shutdown and flights do you cancel before the airlines begin going bankrupt or flying becomes so unreliable people just stop trying?

In the case of the school in the article, University of Pittsburgh, how many more of these threats are they going to evacuate buildings and run security checkpoints for before the students start leaving looking for schools that actually have time for education?

These are two of the problems that exist from treating every threat seriously and not using risk management techniques to handle threat response.  But given that everyone involved would be fired, if not prosecuted, if they were wrong, what alternative do they have?

If we shut down our society because we're afraid then haven't the terrorists won without ever doing a thing?

Things Motherhood Has Taught Me So Far

April 8, 2012 5:50 pm

  1. Sleep deprivation makes everything worse.
  2. I am not, by nature, a flexible person. I love predictability. Unfortunately, Heather abhors a schedule. I'm working on coping.
  3. Our upstairs neighbors love nothing more than to vacuum and/or shower. (Does all the vacuuming make them sweaty?) I never noticed until I had a baby to be startled by sudden noises when she's nursing at 3:30am and they turn the water on full blast.
  4. I have always taken the ability to fall asleep just because you're tired for granted. Apparently, babies don't know how to do this.
  5. NEVER live next to a preschool. It's annoying when the screaming children wake you up. It is both infuriating and tragic when they wake up your baby.
  6. A little Zoloft can go a long way.*
  7. Bouncing on an exercise ball is an effective way to put a baby to sleep. (This still makes no sense to me, but it's what works for Heather.)
  8. Bouncing on an exercise ball doesn't burn nearly as much fat as you might think it would.
  9. Grump is a verb, as in "Heather was grumping all afternoon, so we went for a walk. It didn't help; she grumped half the way home, too."
*Actually, I already knew this. It's just been several years.

5 months (and 1 week (and 4 days))

10:44 am

Yeah, this post is a bit late. Sorry.

Well, I said last month that Heather's feet would be in her mouth soon, right? Here you go:


She chews on her toes all the time. She even spent most of Relief Society one week, laying on my lap with both her feet pulled up to her mouth, going from one foot to the other. She's also started sucking/chewing on her thumb, though not for very long at a time. It's pretty much the cutest thing ever. And I don't know if she's actually teething yet or not, but she has definitely figured out biting/chewing. She spends as much time chomping on things as sucking on them these days. Even her pacifier! Speaking of which, she learned a trick a few weeks ago, going from this:


to this:


While sucking on the binkie, she opens her mouth as wide as she can, then pops the bottom edge of the binkie in with her fingers (while keeping the nipple in there, too) and bites down on it. I don't know why this is so entertaining for her, but she does it all the time.

Solids are going great. She's now eaten rice cereal, oatmeal, barley cereal (mixed with prune juice these days, to keep things moving), avocado, and sweet potato. (This week, her new food will be butternut squash!) So far, she's loved everything we've fed her, though lately she seems to like the cereal less than before.

My least favorite recent development is that Heather will no longer fall asleep for Kyle. We have no idea why. This sucks because putting her down for naptime/bed was already my least favorite part of the day, and now I get no relief. On the subject of sleep, though, she's started doing very strange things when she's trying to settle down to sleep. She sleeps in basically two positions: (1) flopped over to one side or the other, with her legs out in front so she makes an "L," or (2) flat on her back, with her hands up behind her head, elbows out, and her feet up near her bum, with her knees flopped out (yes, it looks ridiculous). Oh, and Henrietta is usually over her face. But before she'll settle into either of these positions, she flops around like a crazy person! Her hands/arms pull up so she can rub her face in Henrietta, and her legs get pulled up, straightened out, and then slammed down onto the mattress, not unlike a bull pawing the ground before charging. Over and over and over. It's insane, and I have no idea how it helps her relax. But it seems to.


Heather can laugh now, but Kyle's the best at getting her to do it. It's mostly when you tickle her, or do something along those lines. It's really weird though, this kind of barking chuckle.

She really likes going for walks in her stroller. She just sits up (sometimes even leaning forward) and LOOKS at everything. Cars going by always get her attention, and it's funny to see her head whip around as she follows them.


All of a sudden, Heather became quite mobile. She's been able to roll from her stomach to her back for a while now, and there was a lengthy lead-up to learning that skill. But one morning, she just started rolling from her back to her front, and now there's no containing her. She can roll around all over the place, and she can squirm a little bit to get things that are just out of her reach. It's pretty funny to look away, then realize she's moved a few feet in the time you were checking your email. The other morning, I laid her down on her playmat, then sat down to eat my breakfast. When I got up to put my dishes away, she was like this:


Originally, she had been turned the other direction (feet to the left of the picture) and was entirely on the mat. I really can't figure out how she wriggled down between the chair legs like that.

So, to begin with, Heather would swat at things with her fists. Then she progressed to grabbing things. Now, she's on to touching things. She'll reach out and just kind of feel the hanging toys on her playmat. It's really cute. And while she's nursing, she'll often reach up and play with my hand or try to reach some of my hair so she can run her fingers through it. (Also, she loves Kyle's hair. She thinks it's super fun to run her hands through.) She also reaches out for faces, particularly mouths. And when we read to her, she'll sit way forward and try to grab the pictures on the pages. When do babies recognize the difference between pictures and real objects?


I was all set to tell you all that Heather's sleep has gone back to normal, and even improved. For several days, that was true. It was easy to get her down, and she'd even nap for an hour or two at a time, which she has never done with any regularity. But now we're back to lousy naps again. Honestly, I feel like I have two babies. Happy Heather seems to only show up for a few days at a time every few weeks, but she's fantastically awesome and fun. She naps like a rockstar and is happy and a true joy when she's awake. But mostly, we get Fussy Heather, who naps very poorly and is only really happy for a half hour or so after waking up. Much of the rest of the day, she's cranky and clingy and very demanding, not enjoying anything for very long. I wish I knew how to make her happier more often. My personal theory is that something makes her uncomfortable (gas, constipation, teething, whatever), which both irritates her and keeps her from sleeping well, making things even worse. I don't know if that's accurate or not, though, and even if it is, it's difficult to tell what's bothering her or how to help.

Even so, she's totally adorable and we love her very much. How could you not love this face?



April 5, 2012 9:32 am

This is Henrietta, Heather's pink hippo sleepytime buddy:

You may be thinking, "Wait a minute. That's not a hippo. That's a giraffe!", in which case you'd be right. I thought it was a hippo. We've called her a hippo. Only just now, when I was trying to find a picture online because I'm too lazy to take one myself, did I discover that she's a giraffe. My world is topsy turvy, and I can only imagine what this is going to do to Heather. I hope we make it through.
We started giving Henrietta to Heather at bedtimes when we stopped swaddling her, and it's been really helpful. It gives her something to do with her arms. And, apparently, it's way easier to sleep when you have a hippo (argh! giraffe!) on your face than otherwise. Also, seeing her snuggled up with her is just adorable. (I need to get a picture of it, but I can't do it when she's sleeping, and I'm not sure she'll do it at another time.)
Anyway, we love Henrietta, and we'll just have to accept her, no matter what she is.