Monday, December 22, 2014

Was It Really the North Koreans?

Writing in The AtlanticBruce Schneier is skeptical, not that he has a better idea, though he does lay out some other possibilities. But he reminds us that the government has not always gotten stuff like this right in the past.
I worry that this case echoes the “we have evidence—trust us” story that the Bush administration told in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Identifying the origin of a cyberattack is very difficult, and when it is possible the process of attributing responsibility can take months. While I am confident that there will be no U.S. military retribution because of this, I think the best response is tocalm down and be skeptical of tidy explanations until more is known.
 Also, on the general question of whether this means that anybody can break into anything, Bruce writes in the WSJ, the answer is no, but anybody can break into something, and it's possible for an entity with enough resources to break into almost anything.

And in a third piece Bruce offers another piece of advice that is as good here as it is generally: the first thing to do is not panic.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Phase Transition

I have been named Interim Dean of Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. What I say in the official announcement is all true -- it's an honor and a privilege. How many people get to take the leadership role of a place to which their first connection happened almost exactly fifty years earlier? In the fall of 1964 my freshman advisor was a professor in the old Division of Engineering and Applied Physics. I remember feeling mildly insulted. An ENGINEER? I was going to be a pure mathematician! I was disabused of that fantasy by Math 55, and a couple of years later wound up in Applied Math where I belonged, and I have had some sort of SEAS affiliation ever since. Boy, the Freshman Dean's Office was good at assigning advisors (it's still done well, but no longer by the FDO).

I hope the blog won't go completely dark, but this job is going to consume all my time, and more, for the (I hope) brief period while I hold it. And yes, the subjects may change -- for certain things I might once have blogged I will now just pick up the phone to start an inside-Harvard conversation!

And NO I AM NOT A CANDIDATE FOR A PERMANENT POSITION AS DEAN. Harvard and I may both be crazy, but we are not stupid.

That said, two good op-eds in the NYT today:
Blowing Off Class? We Know (on big data and academic affairs, which it's interesting to see how other places are thinking about)
A Pox on Campus Life, in which Frank Bruni talks as though he read the 1994 Report on the Structure of Harvard College in which the committee I chaired recommended randomization of the Houses.