Electronic Warfare: Israel’s Syria Bombing Raid

I don’t normally post about military or political events here, but this this article had a specific technology angle to it, and I thought it was too interesting to ignore.

From Aviation Week:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the Israelis struck a construction site at Tall al-Abyad just south of the Turkish border on Sept. 6. Press reports from the region say witnesses saw the Israeli aircraft approach from the Mediterranean Sea while others found unmarked drop tanks in Turkey near the border with Syria. Israeli defense officials admitted Oct. 2 that the Israeli Air Force made the raid.

blog post photo
The big mystery of the strike is how did the non-stealthy F-15s and F-16s get through the Syrian air defense radars without being detected? Some U.S. officials say they have the answer.

U.S. aerospace industry and retired military officials indicated today that a technology like the U.S.-developed “Suter” airborne network attack system developed by BAE Systems and integrated into U.S. unmanned aircraft by L-3 Communications was used by the Israelis. The system has been used or at least tested operationally in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last year.

The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can’t be seen, they say. The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading messages algorithms that allow a number of activities including control.

A Kuwaiti newspaper wrote that “Russian experts are studying why the two state-of-the art Russian-built radar systems in Syria did not detect the Israeli jets entering Syrian territory. Iran reportedly has asked the same question, since it is buying the same systems and might have paid for the Syrian acquisitions.”

I find it a little surprising that your could commercialize an exploit like this.  I’ve done enough security software work to know that it’s not surprising that any system engineered in the last 50 years would have vulnerabilities.  Thanks to the ongoing wars over security on the Internet, in fact, our ability to “crack” into systems seems to be growing at a rapid pace.

That being said, when an exploit is discovered, typically a patch is quickly produced.  For example, if they find a serious exploit tomorrow in a common piece of networking equipment, like a Linksys home router, typically a software patch would be quickly released to block that exploit.

As a result, if an exploit like this existed in serious military systems, you’d think that a patch would be quickly released to block it.  The lead times to produce military systems in volume would seem to preclude commercializing an exploit the way this article describes.

Then again, I guess the exploit would have two things going for it:

1) The exploit would not be used frequently, making it hard for the enemy to “simulate” or understand the exploit well enough to produce a patch.

2) Not everyone keeps up-to-date with their security patches… do you?

It would be a fascinating turn of events if the next-generation military advantage did not depend on speed, munition strength, or even targeting & accuracy.  Instead, the real advantage could go to the force who could most rapidly disable and coopt enemy systems.

Tracking ROI: Prosper Loans in Quicken & Understanding Investment Returns

Kevin over at RateLadder had a really interesting post this weekend on the discrepancy between what his Quicken records indicate for rate of return on his Prosper loans, and what Prosper reports:

Quicken enters the money into the account the moment the money leaves my account and it only acknowledges interest after it has been paid. Prosper only counts money in loans and acknowledges interest the moment it is accrued. Both acknowledge default sale amounts the moment they happen. Neither approach attempt to project a future loan’s value.

What does this mean? Well it means that with Quicken you can get the ROI for the moment the money enters the account with interest only for actual payments received. With Prosper you get the ROI for the loans with all accrued interest. Since you can only deduct defaulted principal (cash basis) I feel that Quicken’s approach is correct.

You can see the discrepency in the chart he provided below:

I haven’t run the numbers on my own account, but I believe that the cause of this discrepency is due to the difference between tracking the actual return on the cash moved to Prosper vs. the actual loans themselves. When you move money to Prosper, it wastes time. It takes some time for money to appear in the new account, and it takes time to bid and win loans to invest the money. As a result, your money does not spend 100% of its time in loans, and thus your actual return is lower than the Prosper reported return on your loans.

This is a really important financial concept to grasp, and it extends to other instruments besides Prosper.

First, when you invest in bonds, loans, or other fixed-income investments, re-investment risk is real. Re-investment risk is the risk that when you receive interest payments, you may not be able to re-invest them at the same (or better) rate of return. Prosper is an example of this, since the minimum investment is $50.00, you have to accrue payments until you have another $50.00 to lend. That time spent uninvested is time spent earning a big fat 0%.

Second, when investment vehicles report returns, they only report returns for specific time periods. Your actual returns, however, reflect your actual dates for moving and investing money. Mutual funds are notorious for this, as they tend to report annual results for very specific 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year dates. Because people rarely have invested all of their money on exactly those dates, their returns can vary significantly.

Imagine a fund that on January 1st earned 20% (big day!), and then earned -2% the rest of the year. Their prospectus would brag about an 18% return last year. If you actually moved your money into the fund on January 2nd, you might be wondering why your account actually lost money that same year.

I hope these two tips are helpful the next time you’re looking at your investments and wondering, “Why don’t my returns match the ones on the website?” Caveat Emptor, my friends.

Mr. Angry & Ms. Calm. A Tale of Email & Digg

I got an email this weekend forwarding a cool optical illusion.  I thought I’d share it here on my blog:

If you are near to this picture, Mr Angry is on the left and Mrs Calm is on the right. If you view it from a distance, they switch places!

For me, stepping away from my computer and looking at the image from about 8 feet away did the trick.  Your mileage may vary.

CREDITS This illusion was invented by Philippe G. Schyns and Aude Oliva of the University of Glasgow. It is featured on this web page: http://cvcl.mit.edu/gallery.htm , listed under ‘Dr Angry and Mr Smiles’. It is taken from Schyns and Oliva’s paper, “Dr Angry and Mr Smiles: when categorization flexibly modifies the perception of faces in rapid visual presentations, Nov 1998”. It is a copyright image and if they tell me to take it off this web page, I will.

I didn’t use to do this, but now when I receive these emails, I tend to go online to see if I can ferret out the source.   I did a Google search for “Mr. Angry Ms. Calm” and I found this very illusion was a Digg front page post… 2 years ago!    Digg was pretty young back then, as you can tell from the comments that people left on the post, debating whether it merited “front page status” or not.

The original post is located here, if you are interested.

Interestingly, it was also on Boing Boing at the same time, and the original image creators actually commented:

The illusion works by manipulating the spatial frequencies of the image.  The low spatial frequencies (the rough, fuzzy shape information of an image) from one image (e.g. Mr. Angy) are combined with the high spatial frequencies (the sharp edge information of an image) from a different image (e.g. Mrs. Calm).  When viewing this hybrid image at a close distance, our perceptual system is able to extract and process the high spatial frequencies and thus we see the image where the high spatial frequencies were taken from.  When viewing the hybrid image at a distance further away, our perceptual system can no longer extract the high spatial frequencies meaning we only see the low spatial frequency information, thus we see the other image.  You can also get a switch in the hybrid image by squinting.”

For me, this is an interesting commentary on the speed and distribution of “unique content” around the web.  It took two years for a front page Digg post to make it to my inbox.

It’s also a really cool special effect. 🙂