Protecting Key Infrastructure

Much has been said lately about the vulnerability of key infrastructure to “hacking” from the Internet.  Here’s a rather simple idea.  Intel could produce a chip with a modified instruction set.  It is still the regular Intel CPU that does all the things a regular CPU does, just that at the machine language level, it’s instruction set has been scrambled.  What this means is that a binary from a “civilian” machine would not be able to run on the “hardened” machine.  There would be no way for a virus to move from one to the other.  You could break in and put your malware there, but it wouldn’t run.

Sure, someone could create a program that would run on that chip, but they would have to deliver it directly.  It wouldn’t be able to spread from machine to machine and find its way to the target.  It would make it very hard for code to “accidentally” find a target system by simply spreading through the computer ecosystem.  It would be like having carbon-based life and silicon-based life.  What is food to one is a rock to the other.

It would be pretty simple to do, just change the microcode.  It wouldn’t take any physical changes in the die but they could do that, too.  Change some pins around so a “hardened” CPU won’t even work in a “civilian” motherboard.  In fact, it could be wired so that plugging one in to a “civilian” mother board (or vice versa, the plugging of a civilian CPU into a “hardened” motherboard) would produce a rather spectacular result.  Considering the number of CPUs purchased by utility companies and government, it would seem that there would be sufficient market to warrant doing this.  All of the regular software would be available, one would simply have to compile the operating system on that processor type, but malware from “civilian” hosts would just plain not run on a “hardened” host.  The “hardened” CPUs could be controlled in distribution, not sold to the general public, banned from export, made only inside the US, etc.



Politicians Full of Themselves

So, what else is new.  Watching this entire SOPA/PIPA trainwreck, I would like to remind politicians of something.   Americans are the best educated we have ever been in our history.  We don’t need someone in Washington to “take care” of us.  There are millions of us who are better qualified to govern and make laws than the people who are currently in office.  Most of the people in office have no real world experience with anything except running for elections and their concept of what it is like to actually live outside the halls of government is some sort of a fantasy world for them.  They have no clue.

We understand that Hollywood has spent millions of dollars lobbying you but we didn’t ask for these “protections”.  Please mind your own business and keep your hands off of our internet.  It’s ours.  Not yours.  Leave it alone.


On Data Centers and Cooling

I spend a lot of time in data centers.  These are not your average “computer room” in an office someplace, but the large industrial scale data centers in “Silicon Valley” where large networks have a presence and exchange traffic with other data centers.  These places are loud and they are air cooled.  The amount of energy consumed in simply moving air around the place is tremendous.  First there will be the fans in the individual servers themselves.  Often there are many of these.  There are fans on the CPU and often other components such as the power supply.  Then there are fans that extract that hot air from the chassis into the rack or cabinet.  Then there might be a fan on the cabinet that exhausts the heat into the room.  In the room there are large air handling units that exchange the heat in the air to chilled water which is then pumped to the roof where the heat is exchanged to outside air.    Heat dissipation is the ultimate constraint in data center server density these days.  Every watt of power brought into the data center in the form of electricity must be exhausted in the form of heat.  The limit to the amount of power you can bring in is the limit of heat you can exhaust.  So the environmental management system inside the data center is the ultimate constraint on the amount of power you can provide to customers and is therefore the primary constraint to the number of servers you can place in a data center.

Most data centers, therefore, limit customers to a certain number of watts of power per square foot of rented space.  If you want more power, you need to rent more space which generally goes unused but the goal that the data center operator is trying to meet is to have 100% of the space rented at 100% of their air handling capacity minus a little cushion.  So I could place enough servers to use 100% of their air handling capacity but they would require me to rent the entire data center to do that.  Often they have the electrical capacity to handle many more servers but the constraint is still the amount of heat they can exhaust.   There are literally thousands (possibly millions in the larger data centers) of fans moving heat around.

These data centers are, in many cases, uncomfortable places to work.  First they are extremely loud and in many cases cold.  The ambient air temperature is kept low so that the air inside the racks and chassis of these computers provides sufficient cooling.  There is a better way.

It is time for liquid cooling in the data center.

Many years ago in a former career with a defense electronics manufacturer, I worked with liquid cooled electronics for military applications.  There are many places where one does not want noise from fans.  One way to eliminate fan noise is to use liquid cooling.  This technology has evolved in defense electronics to a fairly high standard.  There are standard fittings to use with liquid cooled electronics, purge valves, practices to eliminate damage from leaks, etc.  This isn’t anything new.  What is needed is a standard interface for liquid cooling to be developed by the industry so that computer chassis manufacturers can produce gear with the proper interface for the cooling system.  Once this is in place the data center goes quiet and the air temperature can be optimized for humans rather than for machines.  All of the energy spent moving air from inside a chassis to the heat exchangers in the data center can be eliminated.  Coolant from the warm side of each cabinet can be sent directly to the outside heat exchangers (chillers) with a great savings in energy, increase in data center server density, and a more comfortable environment for humans.

On Our New Military Configuration

Our current administration is proposing a major shift in the configuration of our military and its strategy.  The major difference is an abandonment of the “two wars at the same time” strategy where we had the capability to fight two separate wars in two hemispheres at the same time.  Along with this, they are proposing a drastic reduction in the size of our military with a decrease of about a half million service members.

I have a suggestion, if this is to still provide us with a reasonable degree of security.  One danger of reducing the size of the military by this much is the ability to rapidly ramp up strength in case of an emergency.   It takes time to train troops, time we might not have in a real emergency.  It takes about 10 weeks just to get troops through the induction and basic training phases, let alone start teaching them the skill required for their specialty.  Some of these specialties are quite technical and can take anywhere from 8 weeks to a year of training.  What I would propose is this:

  1. Reinstate the draft.
  2. Inductees are given basic training and training in their selected specialty.
  3. They are then released back into the general economy with this training.
  4. This pool of people are placed in an inactive reserve status for a total of six years from the date of their induction.
  5. After six years, they are placed on a secondary status for call up only after the primary call of the current 6-year reserves is exhausted. They remain in this status until 20 years from their initial induction with a refresher at 10 years.

This does several things.  First it reduces the amount of time required to field service members in case of a national emergency.  Secondly, it produces people with some basic skills that can put those skills to use in the economy.  For example, civil engineering skills could be put to use in the construction industry and the same would go for transportation, maintenance, and highly technical skills.  Thirdly, it allows screening of a larger cross-section of the population so that those with exceptional skills could be retained in the active military if they so desire.

The point is, the military serves the economy by producing a stream of trained people in many different skills beyond “trigger pulling”.  This is a valuable vocational training opportunity that we shouldn’t lose.  In addition, we would need to find a way to reduce the amount of time required to ramp up a force should we face an emergency and this addresses that challenge, as well.

In Memoriam

Ronald W. Messerly

One of Arizona’s finest lawyers.  He literally “wrote the book” on Arizona construction and real estate law.  My late wife’s brother, my children’s uncle, my brother-in-law, a husband, a father of two, and a most brilliant man.

He will be sorely missed by many.  So long, Ron.

His obituary.

On Stephen Wilde’s Post at Tallbloke’s

This is in reference to a discussion at:

Tallbloke’s blog by Stephen Wilde.  My response is something of a tome so I am going to post it here.  I don’t do this stuff for a living so take this in the spirit of me possibly talking through my pants a bit.  The approach is one from first principles and from some additional reading on the subject.  So, here we go:

i) The stratosphere and the mesosphere actually cooled when the sun was more active and are now warming now that the sun is less active. There must be something else going on to account for that.

Yes, there could well be other things involved.  But, an increase in UV should increase excitation in the stratosphere and increase temperature from where it would be without it.  There may be other things going on that influence that however, and swamp that.  In other words, the stratosphere cooled while the sun was active, yes, but maybe it was still warmer than it would have been and might have cooled even MORE if the sun were not so active.

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