“Security Engineering” Available Online

March 11, 2013

If you have a serious interest in system and network security, one of the best reference books available is Security Engineering, by Ross Anderson.  The first edition of this book was published in 2001, and quickly became a standard text.  Under an agreement with the publishers, the complete text of that book was made freely available online, four years after its publication.  The second edition, which I think is even better, was published in 2008; as with the first edition, the second edition text is now available online.

Dr. Anderson is Professor of Security Engineering at the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, and has for many years been regarded as one of the world’s top security experts.  He received his PhD from Cambridge, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics, and the Royal Academy of Engineering.  His home page (linked above) has an overview of his very extensive research work.

My (paper) copy of the first edition of Security Engineering is one of the handful of reference books I use all the time.  I don’t have a paper copy of the second edition yet, but I’ll certainly be ordering one.  If you have a serious interest in the field, I recommend it without reservation.


Internet Archive Celebrates 10 Petabytes

October 28, 2012

The Internet Archive, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a digital archive and library of Internet content, has just celebrated its collection reaching 10 petabytes (10,000,000,000,000,000, or 1.0×1016 bytes).   The collection contains approximately 150 billion historical Web pages, as well as texts, images, audio, and video.  The Internet Archive provides the Wayback Machine to allow retrieval of archived pages, as well as more general search tools.

The Internet Archive also announced the availability, for research purposes, of 80-terabytes (8.0×1013 bytes) of archived Web crawl data from 2011.  The data set characteristics are:

  • Crawl start date: 09 March, 2011
  • Crawl end date: 23 December, 2011
  • Number of captures: 2,713,676,341
  • Number of unique URLs: 2,273,840,159
  • Number of hosts: 29,032,069

Interested researchers can get in touch with the Archive to arrange access.

If you would like access to this set of crawl data, please contact us at info at archive dot org and let us know who you are and what you’re hoping to do with it.  We may not be able to say “yes” to all requests, since we’re just figuring out whether this is a good idea, but everyone will be considered.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently had a front-page profile of the Internet Archive and its founder, Brewster Kahle.


Alan Turing Centenary, Part 3

June 25, 2012

I’ve come across a few more items of interest in connection with the Alan Turing Centenary.  The Official Google Blog has a post marking Turing’s 100th birthday, last Saturday, June 23. In addition to discussing some of Turing’s work, it describes Google’s involvement in the Bletchley Park restoration project, and gives a brief overview of the recently-opened Turing exhibit at the Science Museum.

Google also had a home page “doodle” in honor of Turing’s birthday, which was a small, working Turing machine.  You  can play with it here.

The BBC News site has added a couple of additional essays about Turing.  The first of these includes reminiscences of Turing from two of colleagues.  One, Mike Woodger, served as Turing’s assistant at the National Physical Laboratory after WW II.

Mike Woodger worked as an assistant to Alan Turing in 1946 – the year Turing, fresh from his wartime work code-breaking, joined the National Physical Laboratory, in Teddington. Turing left after a year, but Mr Woodger stayed on to work on the completion of the Pilot Ace Computer, which Turing had helped to design.

The other colleague was Captain Jerry Roberts, a linguist and code-breaker at Bletchley Park from 1941 to 1945.  He remembers the huge importance of Turing’s breaking the German naval Enigma.

Up to the time when he broke it, Britain had been losing tremendous tonnages of shipping, including all our food imports.

If we had gone on losing the same amount of shipping, in another four to six months Britain would have lost the war.

The next BBC essay is by the scriptwriter, Graham Moore, who reviews some of Turing’s appearances in fiction and biography.

If Alan Turing had not existed, would we have had to invent him? The question seems to answer itself: Alan Turing very much did exist, and yet we have persisted in inventing him still.

He mentions the 1986 play, Breaking the Code, by Hugh Whitemore.  I had a chance to see this during its run on Broadway, with Derek Jacobi playing the role of Turing, and enjoyed it very much.  Apparently the BBC has also made a film version. In a slightly different vein, there is Neal Stephenson’s novel, Cryptonomicon.

Stephenson uses historical fiction’s ability to conjure hypothetical, counterfactual realities to play a great game of “what if” with the Turing legend.

I’ve read Cryptonomicon, and recommend it highly.  I’m not familiar with the other works Moore mentions, but they’re now on my list to look into.

Finally, for those readers who may have a DIY itch that needs scratching, it is possible to build a Turing machine out of LEGOs.

In honor of Alan Turing’s hundredth birthday, Davy Landman, Jereon van den Bos, and Paul Klint built a Turing Machine out of LEGOs. And if you like, you can build one too.

Please enjoy!


Nooking an Interest in Literature

June 3, 2012

This past week brought news of a somewhat strange and amusing experience with the brave new world of electronic books.  A reader who purchased an English translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace for his Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader came across this curious sentence opening:

It was as if a light had been Nookd in a carved and painted lantern and the intricate, skillful, artistic work on its sides …

The reader, who first posted the story on his blog, noticed several more odd occurrences of the word “Nook”.  A subsequent comparison with a printed copy of the translation revealed that the sentence should have begun

It was if a light had been kindled in a carved and painted lantern …

According to an article at Ars Technica on the incident, there are eight places in the electronic version where the word “nookd” appears.

I’m sure by this point many readers will have remembered that Amazon sells an e-reader called the Kindle, and have guessed the sort of thing that happened.  The novel, War and Peace, is in the public domain.  The most plausible hypothesis is that the publisher, a company called Superior Formatting Publishing, had first prepared a Kindle version of the book.  Then, when it wanted to produce a version for the Nook reader, it did a global search-and-replace on the text, changing all occurrences of  “kindle” to “Nook”.  Possibly this was done because of annotations on the title page or elsewhere.  In this case, the resulting changes were sufficiently odd to motivate the reader’s further investigation.  Probably in most similar cases the results would be merely nonsensical.

However, as Harvard Law Prof. Jonathan Zittrain and Kendra Albert, of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, point out in a blog post, the case does, once again, remind us of the ephemeral nature of electronic text.  It is possible to imagine that an unscrupulous publisher might make changes that would modify the meaning of the text.  Back in the era of (only) printed books, the economics of publishing meant that this could only be done at considerable expense.  Easy, inexpensive electronic publishing certainly has benefits, but there’s a potential downside, too.  Free lunches are still in short supply.


Oxford, Vatican Libraries Launch Joint Digitization Project

April 15, 2012

Another step forward in providing open access to the world’s intellectual heritage has just been announced.  According to an article at the Phys.Org site [formerly PhysOrg.com], the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana at the Vatican have announced a joint project to  digitize some of their books, manuscripts, and other holdings for open access.

Among the items to be digitized will be ancient Greek manuscripts, 15th century printed books, Hebrew manuscripts and astronomical writings.

The project, estimated to take about four years and to cost about £2 million (about $3.2 million), is being funded by a grant from the Polonsky Foundation, the same organization that backed the recently launched Einstein Archive, and the digitization of Sir Isaac Newton’s manuscripts at the University of Cambridge.  The libraries estimate that the new  project will result in about 1.5 million pages being newly available online.

This work will undoubtedly be a great convenience to scholars, who will be able to consult these documents without making a journey to Oxford or the Vatican; perhaps more important, it will make access to the material available to many who would otherwise have no realistic chance of ever seeing it.


New Einstein Archive Site Launched

March 22, 2012

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has announced the launch of a new Web site dedicated to Albert Einstein.  The site’s archive contains more than 40,000 documents from Einstein’s personal papers, and more than 30,000 additional documents from the Einstein Archives, and the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.  The collection is a result of a collaboration between the Hebrew University, the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, and the Princeton University Press.

The new site was made possible, in part, by donations from the same charitable foundation that funded development of online access to Sir Isaac Newton’s manuscripts at Cambridge.

The newly launched digitization project is funded by the Polonsky Foundation UK. Through his foundation, Dr. Leonard Polonsky has initiated similar enterprises, such as the digitization of the writings of Sir Isaac Newton at the University of Cambridge, which attracted 29 million hits within the first 24 hours after its launch.

The initial version of the new site includes a gallery of selected documents in five categories: Science, Personal Life, Public Life, The Jewish People, and The Hebrew University.  (Einstein was a founder and ongoing supporter of the University.)  Included in the Science section is the original 46-page German manuscript of Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie [“Foundation of General Relativity Theory”], Einstein’s first systematic exposition of General Relativity, published in 1916 in Annalen der Physik.

The archive database also has facilities for indexing and cross-referencing documents.

Advanced search technology will enable the display of all related documents by subject, and, in the case of letters, by author and recipient. The first line or title of each document will also be displayed, alongside information on date, provenance and publication history.

As with the Newton manuscripts, it is terrific that these landmark scientific and cultural documents are being made available to anyone with an Internet connection.


Encyclopædia Britannica to Drop Print Edition

March 14, 2012

It seems we are seeing the passing of another era.  According to articles at the BBC News and the New York Times, the firm that publishes the venerable Encyclopædia Britannica has announced that it will not produce any more printed editions.

…  Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.

The Britannica is the oldest continuously published encyclopaedia in English, having been available in print for 244 years.  But sales have dropped off dramatically in recent years.  In 1990, there were 120,000 sets of the Britannica sold in the United States; so far, only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, at $1,395 per set.  The publisher, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., gets less than 1% of its current revenue from printed editions; about 15% of revenue comes from subscriptions to the online version of the encyclopaedia, and about 85% from the sale of educational curriculum products.

The availability of so many reference sources on the Internet has damaged the sales of all sorts of printed references.  I’ve written here before about the development of Wikipedia as a substitute for printed encyclopaedias, and about the mostly groundless fear that it somehow will contain wrong or corrupted information.  Online sources have several advantages: speed of updates and inclusion of new information, and ease of searching are obvious.  For those of us who live in rich democracies, these are undoubtedly convenient.  But, as I’ve said before, I think perhaps the greatest benefit, in the long term, will come from making a large body of knowledge available to the millions of people elsewhere in the world who would have no practical opportunity ever to see a printed copy of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Still, I feel a certain sadness at this news.  I can remember many hours that I spent, as a child, curled up with a volume of the Britannica, reading articles that struck my fancy.  It was great to know that there was so much to discover, just in that one set of elegantly-bound volumes.


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