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May 23, 2005

Kid in a candy store - Freakonomics

Like most of my book referrals, this one came from Chari who is probably the most widely read guy I know.  I borrowed his Freakonomics book yesterday and just devoured it.  Read in that afternoon and could not wait for more.  Turns out that the authors also have a blog in which they write about a variety of topics from the book. 

For those who are not familiar with this book, it joins the canon of books like The Tipping Point and Blink in which the authors use intuition combined with deep analysis of data to make very insightful conclusions. 

Steven Lewitt who is a John Bates Clark Medal winner and a Professor of Economics at University of Chicago is an unusual economist. Instead of poring over mathematics to extend the framework of economics, he instead applies age old economics principles to sociological situations and garners great insights.  He analyzes incentives for real estate agents (surprise - they are really interested only in their commission and not in the interests of the seller) and looks at why school teachers and Sumo wrestlers cheat (the answer my friend is incentives).

Turns out Seth Levine at Mobius is also a big fan of this book . . .

Posted by Venky Ganesan at 10:37 PM in Books | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

Caltech 6 MIT 1

One of my regrets is that I never took the time to get involved with "hacks" or "pranks" at Caltech.  Caltech has a rich tradition of "pranks" all the way from rigging the "Hollywood" sign to read "Caltech" to interrupting a Rose Bowl game

Some talented undergraduates recently took the time to do a prank on MIT's prefrosh weekend.  The pranks were nothing but ingenious.  You can read all about it here . . . my favorite pictures were the following:

Front Back

I got to admit I also enjoyed this one . . .


I fully expect the folks at MIT to retaliate - afterall that what its all about.  You can read more about the pranks as well as the ethics on which they should be done here.

Posted by Venky Ganesan at 09:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 13, 2005

The coming DNS challenge

Om links to a Business 2.0 article on the dangers of a over-worked DNS and how that has resulted in the recent outages at Google and Comcast.  The article and the resultant press coverage on this topic highlights the growing problem with current DNS infrastructure. 

(Warning: tooting Globespan and our portfolio company's horn ;-))

We had invested in Nominum in early 2003 on the investment thesis that open source BIND will not scale and its nice to see that atleast once in a while we are right with our investment thesis.  Nonimum has assembled the world's top experts in DNS (Paul Mockapetris, David Conrad, etc.) and they have built the most scalable DNS engines ever.  If you are a carrier, ISP or an enterprise, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not upgrading your DNS architecture.  If they can't find you, they cannot buy from you.

(end tooting)

Update 1: Good comment by Jeff Nolan on the comcast outage:

that comcast outage wasn't due to overworked DNS but rather a move that the company made to consolidate their regional DNS servers into centralized data centers. Comcast screwed up their network through poor planning, and as evidence to prove my point that this wasn't a DNS scaling issue is that comcast users en masse started moving to Verizon's DNS servers (I did) and they handled the load just fine despite having more broadband customers than Comcast has.

I think there is a fair debate to be had about how to scale DNS, especially when we consider exponential scaling for VoIP to the masses and so on, but the other plane that this debate should reside on is distributed vs. centralized.

I don't know what happenned at Comcast and Jeff is usually right on these kind of things so I am sure it was due to poor planning.  What I do know given our active involvement in Nominum is that the DNS infrastructure is being taxed in numerous ways:

  • DDOS attacks are dramaticallly impacting DNS availablity and BIND is not set up to handle that
  • Pharming attacks are raising issues of what "DNS addresses" to trust and how to know you really are going to the right address
  • Network operations are becoming complex and network operators want to move, centralize and manage their IP addresses and the current bubble gum and wire setup (usually a bunch of excel spreadsheets) don't let them do that.

Given all that, I think more and more enterprises and carriers are going to opt for a commercial DNS solution rather than rely on BIND

Posted by Venky Ganesan at 01:38 PM in standards, technology, ventures | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

May 04, 2005

Detecting nukes in transit: What can the newly-established DNDO do?

Just finished writing a paper with Sri and Tom Tisch - it's titled 'Nuclear Detection: Portals, fixed detectors, and NEST teams won't work on a national scale, so what's next?'. We analyze the *use* of nuclear detectors to help prevent terrorist nuclear attacks, and we conclude that fixed detector approaches (such as those currently being implemented) are unlikely to be that effective. Here's the executive summary of the paper:

Recognizing the need for detecting terrorist attempts to transport or use fissile nuclear materials, President Bush’s FY 2006 budget request includes $246 million to form a Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). [1] “The DNDO will provide a single accountable organization with dedicated responsibilities to develop the global nuclear detection architecture, and acquire, and support the deployment of the domestic detection system…” [2] How can DNDO planners deliver a global nuclear detection architecture that works?

Nuclear detection systems, as architected and deployed today, leave loopholes in the transportation network that terrorists can easily exploit by making use of light road vehicles to private jets to oil tankers [3].  Progress can be made if we face up to three fundamental facts:

1. Terrorists will most likely try to use highly enriched uranium (HEU), not plutonium: assembly of a HEU bomb does not involve technically complex detonation as with a plutonium bomb.

2. Terrorists can circumvent a network of fixed detectors: fixed detectors not only lack sufficient proximity and exposure to the vehicle in transit but also do not screen many types of vehicles.

3. R&D breakthroughs cannot change the physics of detection: passive detection of HEU will always be limited by its natural rate of radioactivity, and the attenuation of radioactivity is very sharp with distance [4]. The gamma rays and neutrons useful for detecting shielded HEU permit detection only at short distances (2-4 feet or less) and require that there is sufficient time to count a sufficient number of particles (several minutes to hours).

Recommendation: Due to fundamental physical limits, the current trend toward a fixed detector infrastructure is a dead-end. The only way shielded HEU can be effectively detected is if commercially-available detector technology, rather than being kept at fixed locations, are directly integrated into vehicles themselves. Detectors would travel with vehicles and have enough time to record radioactivity before reporting their readings to a network of check-points (in the same way E-Z pass collects highway tolls).

Our paper, 'Nuclear Detection: Portals, fixed detectors, and NEST teams won't work on a national scale, so what's next?' explores tradeoffs in detecting HEU in transit, and analyzes its technical, operational, and economic feasibility.

[1] “R&D in the Department of Homeland Security”, AAAS, http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/06pch12.htm

[2] “Fact Sheet: Domestic Nuclear Detection Office,” http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?content=4474

[3] Medalia, J., 2005, “Nuclear Terrorism: A Brief Review of Threats and Responses,” CRS Report for Congress, The Library of Congress http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/43399.pdf

[4] attenuation of radioactivity with distance is subject to an inverse-square law in free-space and is exponential with shielding

Posted by Narasimha Chari at 08:00 PM in communications, Current Affairs, innovation, RF, Science, security, technology, Terrorism, WMD | Permalink | Comments (37) | TrackBack

May 01, 2005


Normally I don't plug conferences but I am going to break my self-imposed rule and plug TIECON 2005 for the following reasons:

  • Amazing speaker list - check the website out - they have Eric Schmidt, Marc Benioff, Bruce Chizen, Vinod Khosla, Thomas Friedman, etc. and that's only the keynotes.  The list of speakers for the panels are also downright amazing
  • Incredible value - unlike other conferences I attend where I get charged an arm and a leg ($995 to $1500 and sometimes even $3000) the registration fee for this conference is $350 - you read it right, its just $350. The food over the two days alone makes up close to $150 of that amount
  • Last, I have been involved as a content board member on this year's organization committee and can truly vouch for the content. TIE runs this conference at such a low rate so that we can give everyone a chance to come and be inspired about entrepreneurship.

What are you waiting for?

You want it cheaper

Well the TIECON committee heard you, they have lowered the fees even lower this year to
$220 in an effort to make this the largest TIECON ever.  Now you have NO excuse  Register now - here's the link

Posted by Venky Ganesan at 02:48 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack