Regulating the cloud

This morning’s Observer column:

Cloud computing is just a metaphor. It has its origins in the way network engineers in the late-1970s used to represent the internet as an amorphous entity when they were discussing what was happening with computers at a local level. They just drew the net as a cartoonish cloud to represent a fuzzy space in which certain kinds of taken-for-granted communication activities happened. But since clouds are wispy, insubstantial things that some people love, the fact that what went on in the computing cloud actually involved inscrutable, environmentally destructive and definitely non-fuzzy server farms owned by huge corporations led to suspicions that the metaphor was actually a cosy euphemism, formulated to obscure a more sinister reality…

Read on

The new normal: hardware vulnerabilities

From Bruce Schneier:

On January 3, the world learned about a series of major security vulnerabilities in modern microprocessors. Called Spectre and Meltdown, these vulnerabilities were discovered by several different researchers last summer, disclosed to the microprocessors’ manufacturers, and patched — at least to the extent possible.

This news isn’t really any different from the usual endless stream of security vulnerabilities and patches, but it’s also a harbinger of the sorts of security problems we’re going to be seeing in the coming years. These are vulnerabilities in computer hardware, not software. They affect virtually all high-end microprocessors produced in the last 20 years. Patching them requires large-scale coordination across the industry, and in some cases drastically affects the performance of the computers. And sometimes patching isn’t possible; the vulnerability will remain until the computer is discarded.

Spectre and Meltdown aren’t anomalies. They represent a new area to look for vulnerabilities and a new avenue of attack. They’re the future of security — and it doesn’t look good for the defenders.

Brevity is the soul of wit — and of citation indices

The Journal of Economic Bahavior & Organization has an interesting article by Yann Bramoulléa and Lorenzo Ductor entitled “Title Length”. The Abstract reads:

We document strong and robust negative correlations between the length of the title of an economics article and different measures of scientific quality. Analyzing all articles published between 1970 and 2011 and referenced in EconLit, we find that articles with shorter titles tend to be published in better journals, to be more cited and to be more innovative. These correlations hold controlling for unobserved time-invariant and observed time-varying characteristics of teams of authors.

Highlights include:

• Strong and robust negative relation between the length of the title of an article and its scientific quality.

• Articles with shorter titles are published in better journals.

• Articles with shorter titles tend to receive more citations, controlling for journal quality and team characteristics.

• Title length is negatively associated with the novelty of the article.

• The association between title length and citations is stronger in better journals.

Wow! Who knew?

The bounder’s charm

I’m reading Daniel Mendelsohn’s NYRB review of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s last book.

It’s a fine review — perceptive, affectionate but also critical. PLF was a charming writer but he was also a show-off and a bit of a cad. Still, when he was on song he was terrific. As in this passage from another of PLF’s books, Mani, quoted by Mendelsohn:

I often have the impression, listening to a Greek argument, that I can actually see the words spin from their mouths like the long balloons in comic strips…:the perverse triple loop of Xi, the twin concavity of Omega,…Phi like a circle transfixed by a spear…. At its climax it is as though these complex shapes were flying from the speaker’s mouth like flung furniture and household goods, from the upper window of a house on fire.