John Robb in IEEE / Slashdot!

John Robb, who has both personal and theoretical blogs, was mentioned in a recent article in IEEE Spectrum that was picked up by Slashdot:

“What we are seeing is the empowerment of the individual to conduct war,” says John Robb, a counterterrorism expert and author of the book Brave New War (John Wiley & Sons), which came out in April. While the concept of asymmetric warfare dates back at least 2000 years, to the Chinese military strategist Sun-tzu, the conflict in Iraq has redefined the nature of such struggles [see photo, “Road to Perdition”]. As events are making painfully clear, Robb says, warfare is being transformed from a closed, state-sponsored affair to one where the means and the know-how to do battle are readily found on the Internet and at your local RadioShack. This open global access to increasingly powerful technological tools, he says, is in effect allowing “small groups to…declare war on nations.”

Need a missile-guidance system? Buy yourself a Sony PlayStation 2. Need more capability? Just upgrade to a PS3. Need satellite photos? Download them from Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. Need to know the current thinking on IED attacks? Watch the latest videos created by insurgents and posted on any one of hundreds of Web sites or log on to chat rooms where you can exchange technical details with like-minded folks.

Robb calls this new type of conflict “open-source warfare,” because the manner in which insurgent groups are organizing themselves, sharing information, and adapting their strategies bears a strong resemblance to the open-source movement in software development. Insurgent groups, like open-source software hackers, tend to form loose and nonhierarchical networks to pursue a common vision, Robb says. United by that vision, they exchange information and work collaboratively on tasks of mutual interest.


(The comments in the Slashdot article are exceptionally good.)

A weird experience

Received a letter in my mailbox to someone today. The return address was

Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC
PO Box 12914
Norfolk, VA 23541

The letter was clearly written to someone with a very similar name who also studies at the University of Nebraska. The address on the enelope was a combination of his address and mine (I’ve received junk mail for him before) and, being a good guy, I called up the kind people are PRA at 1-800-772-1413 at about 10:30 AM today (Portfolio Recovery Associates, so I am informed, is affiliated to Anchor Receivables Management by common ownership). I believe they were contracted by HSBC / Ameritech.

The first person I talked to, Curtis, was rude, hostile, and threatening. He asked me if it was a crime to receive someone else’s mail (?), and demanded to know my Social Security number. I asked to talk to his “supervisor,” who I assume is another worker on the floor. The second person was more straight forward. He asked to know the last four digits of my SSN, which I refused to give (?). He then read me the addressee’s last four digits, and asked if I that was my number (I responded “no”). I informed him of the error, and how Nebraska has sorted mail wrong in the past, and he thanked me for his time.