obscure pursuits

does the current US economy have $13 billion to spare?

[IP] the Epidemic on the Internet (or better the wreak of it)

On Aug. 11, the Blaster virus and related bugs struck, hammering dozens of corporations, including Air Canada’s reservation and airport check-in systems. Ten days later, the SoBig virus took over, causing delays in freight traffic at rail giant CSX Corp. and shutting down more than 3,000 computers belonging to the city of Fort Worth. Worldwide, 15% of large companies and 30% of small companies were affected by SoBig, according to virus software tracker TruSecure Corp. Market researcher Computer Economics Inc. estimates damage will total $2 billion — one of the costliest viruses ever. All told, damage from viruses may amount to more than $13 billion this year.

$13 billion is a lot of money, even to MSFT. But their license agreements — or more precisely our willingness to agree to them — absolve them of any liability.

[ . . . . . ]

Ralph Szygenda, chief information officer at
General Motors Corp., got fed up when his computers were hit by the Nimda virus in late 2001. He called Microsoft executives. “I told them I’m going to move away from Windows,” Szygenda recalls. “They started talking about security all of a sudden.”

Last year, amid much fanfare, Microsoft launched its Trustworthy Computing initiative, a campaign it claimed would put security at the core of its software design. As part of the campaign, more than 8,500 Microsoft engineers stopped developing the upcoming Windows Server 2003 and conducted a security analysis of millions of lines of freshly written code. Microsoft ultimately spent $200 million on beefing up security in Windows Server 2003 alone. “It’s a fundamental change in the way we write software,” says Mike Nash, vice-president for security business. “If there was some way we could spend more money or throw more people on it, believe me, we’d do it.” Yet, embarrassingly, Windows Server 2003, released in April, was one of the operating systems exploited by Blaster.

Gah. What good does it do for them review their own code? I think we see the results . . . .

The slush pile

Why software is so bad

Edward Tufte: Ask E.T. forum

Societies have invested more than a trillion dollars in software and have grotesquely enriched minimally competent software producers whose marketing skills far exceed their programming skills. Despite this enormous long-run investment in software, economists were unable to detect overall gains in economic productivity from information technology until perhaps the mid-1990s or later; the economist Robert Solow once remarked that computers showed up everywhere except in productivity statistics.

Interesting thread, at least til you get to the bottom where I show up.

blows against the empire

where you might be better off without a computer

Computer bugs annoying, but not a major economic threat – Aug. 22, 2003

To the extent that they force businesses and workers to waste time deleting tons of spam e-mail or loading anti-virus software, the bugs could shave about half a percentage point from productivity growth in the quarter, said Anthony Chan, chief economist at Banc One Investment Advisors.

“Anything that causes people to spend more time thinking about what they do will clearly have an impact on productivity,” Chan said. “The good news is this is not a permanent situation — these things have a way of clearing themselves up. But will it be completely inconsequential? I don’t think so.”

Productivity, a measure of worker output per hour, is a big deal for the economy, since it lowers the cost of doing business, boosting corporate profits and improving standards of living.

Fortunately, with recent advances in technology and the longest period of labor-market weakness since World War II, productivity growth has plenty of room to fall. It grew at a stunning 5.4 percent rate last year, the fastest pace since 1950.

What’s more, a lot of the money businesses are spending on anti-virus software or hiring consultants to safeguard systems goes right back into the economy — it might even create a job or two, Chan said — though it seems unlikely this would totally offset the negative effects.

“With the disruption of airlines, trains and such, it’s hard to make the case that increased business at anti-virus companies would be totally offsetting,” said James Glen, senior economist at

So for some companies, office automation might be a lose, rather than a win. Air Canada’s reservations system was “crippled” for part of a day due to the latest vorm attacks: how much lost revenue does that amount to and what would be the outcome if the EULA was enforceable as a warranty, rather than as a copyright protection tool?

Given that small business is the engine of the US economy and how few mom and pop businesses are likely to have an IT staff, what was the cost to them and to the economy?

blows against the empire

unintended consequences

The Seattle Times: Local News: Freed mink attack Sultan farms

The [10,000] mink were released Monday morning from the Roesler Brothers Fur Farm when someone cut through a fence and opened numerous cages. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a group classified as a domestic terror organization by the FBI, has claimed responsibility in an e-mail to the media.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the fur trade and mink farming — by all accounts. mink are ill-tempered, nasty little bastards: their rescuers this week were advised to handle them with oven mitts to avoid being bitten — liberating 10,000 of them to prey on other livestock and housepets, to say nothing of introducing who knows what into the bloodlines of the wild mink doesn’t seem like a useful gesture.

In one move, a fringe group manages to alienate farmers and citizens who may have otherwise sympathized with their cause.