Security musings – 17 January

There were several interesting developments in computer security over the past few days.  New stuff on Facebook security and Stuxnet.

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California’s illegal immigration problem

Illegal immigration was a big issue in the last election, but it seems that few people really know the statistics. One question, in particular, is the number of so-called “anchor babies” that are really born each year. I relied solely on data from California government agencies (California Department of Healthcare Services and California Department of Public Health), since other sources can be unreliable.  My research turned up some disturbing numbers.

It turns out that 19.5% of all births in California in 2005 (the latest year for which I could find sufficient data) were to undocumented immigrants using Medi-Cal.  In other words, 1 in 5 newborns in the state was born, at taxpayer expense, to someone here illegally.  In Los Angeles County alone, there were 40,777 Medi-Cal births to undocumented immigrants, out of a total of 81,023 births on Medi-Cal and 150,377 total births in the county.  In other words, half of LA County Medi-Cal births were to undocumented immigrants, and 27% of all LA County births were to Medi-Cal funded undocumented immigrants.  For Santa Cruz County, where I live, 760 out of 3385 births were to undocumented immigrants on Medi-Cal, for a rate of 22%.

The bottom line is that, while the publicly-funded birth rate to illegal immigrants isn’t quite as high as some have quoted, it is high: 20% statewide, with higher numbers in some counties.  And it is a real problem, too.  At just $5000 for a delivery, the state of California spent $500 million to pay for the delivery of babies born to illegal immigrants, and I suspect the actual cost was somewhat higher.  To put that in perspective, the state spent $2.843 billion on the entire University of California system in 2005-06.  Based on these numbers, it’s difficult to say that illegal immigration isn’t a serious problem in California.

For those who want the original source material, you can look up the Medi-Cal birth statistics and overall California birth statistics yourself.

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Text editors on the Mac

There are lots of text editors on the Mac.  I’ve narrowed it down to two editors at this point: BBEdit and emacs.  They each have pluses and minuses.

emacs is great if you don’t ever want to pick your hands up off the keyboard.  There’s a keystroke set for everything, and modes for editing just about any kind of file.  It’s also infinitely customizable, especially if you know Lisp (knowing Lisp is, in itself a good thing, but that’s a subject for another post).  Equally important, it’s free, and it runs on just about any system (Mac, Windows, Linux, BSD, other Unixen).  So why don’t I just run emacs and be done with it?

BBEdit has the polish that emacs lacks.  It’s much better integrated with the Mac environment, and it has support for things like projects (opening a set of files at the same time).  It also works much better with a mouse, which can be good for some kinds of editing.

So which editor should you get?  BBEdit (or its free sibling, TextWrangler) if you don’t already know how to use emacs.  emacs, if having your fingers do all sorts of walking is the way you like to edit files.

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California gubernatorial race

The California gubernatorial race is starting to turn ugly, not that it wasn’t already. Neither candidate makes a particularly compelling choice for governor – they both have serious flaws. Whitman has no experience at any level in politics, and seems not to realize that you can’t run a state like you run a company, since the governor (CEO) can’t simply will things to occur. On the other hand, Brown seems to have no idea how to rein in costs, and is sufficiently beholden to labor unions that he’ll try to raise taxes instead of looking for places to cut.

The mudslinging is also disturbing. Whitman is being criticized for firing her household help when she discovered the woman provided false documentation showing that she was legally allowed to work in the US. This action is totally consistent with her stand on immigration, and calls for Whitman to use her power and money to keep the woman in the country legally are simply wrong: the woman lied about her immigration status, and seems to have covered up attempts by the Social Security Administration to out her.

At the same time, Whitman’s charges based on the off-the-hook phone are also overblown. Yes, his staff shouldn’t have used those words, but it’s not as bad as she seems to imply.

Why couldn’t someone good run for governor in California?

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I recently bought Osmos, a neat physics-based game for the iPhone. The idea is simple: you control a circular mass by ejecting jets of matter to alter your velocity, reducing your own mass (and diameter) in the process. You can gain mass by “absorbing” other circles smaller than you, but are in turn absorbed if you bump into a mass larger than you. Very simple game to learn!

The objective depends on the level, ranging from “grow as big as possible” to “absorb a particular mass”. Some masses have different properties, acting as attractors or repulsors. Others have some intelligence and may try to escape from you or absorb you by steering themselves just as you do.

It may sound odd, but it’s a fun game, and well worth the $0.99 now that it’s on sale at the iTunes Store.

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Welcome to my blog!

I’ve decided to take the plunge and start writing occasional stuff on this blog.  Since I’m running it on a hosted system rather than a commercial system like blogspot, no ads!  See the “about” link for more about me and this blog.


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