How does logic work?

Today I ran across what is likely the most elemental example of logic ever devised. Aristotle is credited with its earliest forms and I am therefore sure that it is taught to every first year philosophy student on the planet; but that does not take away its simplistic beauty.

It is a syllogism.

Much like the best scientific theories are simple, the best examples of logic are simple. So here we go.

Continue reading “How does logic work?”

Emergence and Reductionism

Reductionism is a philosophy that provides some interesting thought exercises. When applied to science, the basic theory is that all science can be revealed as some subset of some other part of science, therefore reducing the subset into the other discipline. In short, systems are no more than the sum of their parts. Followed to its logical conclusion, we would eventually discover that there is, in fact, only a single branch of science that could explain everything.

By way of a small example (that doesn’t work fully), we can take Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Kepler explained how planets move. A few years later, Newton came up with his laws of dynamics which explain how everything moves. Newton’s laws explained how the planets moved as well as everything else, therefore Kepler’s work was “reduced” to become part of the general understanding of how things move.

Continue reading “Emergence and Reductionism”

Why complicated science is not good science

As part of my undergrad studies we need to gain an understanding of what science is, what it is not, and – if it is science – how to determine if it is good science. Not all scientific theories are created equal and there are ways to evaluate how good a theory is. Some of the ways involve hard criteria such as leveraging probability and statistical analysis, and some are softer. It’s the softer ones that interest me today.

In biological science, the mother of all theories is Darwin’s theory on the origin of the species through natural selection (usually referred to as ‘evolution’). I’m going to use this theory as a framework to provide examples of what makes a good theory. The theory of evolution through natural selection is a good theory, and here’s why. Continue reading “Why complicated science is not good science”

Rise of the Machines – Why do old things matter?

I went to a Christmas craft show today and a large part of the space was devoted to antiques and collectibles. The vendors had very large spaces with lots of old stuff ranging from typewriters to old door locks, to china and Polariod cameras. These guys weren’t just cleaning out their attics, they were definitely “in the business”.

Picking through old mechanical stuff is a great joy of mine. It doesn’t have to necessarily work as long as it retains enough of its parts that I can see how it used to work. I don’t have much use for old magazines and china, but I love old machines; or, at least, the things that preceded our machines of today. I must not be alone because the vendors there obviously know there is business in collecting and selling this stuff. That got me thinking about the reasons why we love old stuff.

Continue reading “Rise of the Machines – Why do old things matter?”

What does brute force SSH hacking look like?

Brute force hacking is the easiest, least effective, and messiest method of all the ways to attempt to gain access to a system. It leaves a really obvious trail, and it’s fairly easy to stop unless you’ve become the target of large organization that really is out to get you.

By definition, brute force hack attempts are simply some variation of just trying to guess a proper username and password combination. I will look at attempts to break in to a Linux box via SSH, but the principals are the same regardless of the attack target.

Continue reading “What does brute force SSH hacking look like?”

Correlation != Causation

One of the things I love most about science is hearing other people call science a “thing”. “Science says the planets are round”. “Science says vaccines reduce the spread of herd diseases”. While these conclusions are true, the way in which they are spoken belies some level of ignorance as to what science is.

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.- Carl Sagan

Science is a way of thinking. It is a process that has been developed over generations to support the human endeavour to figure out how things work. The scientific process is not perfect and it certainly has led to some incorrect conclusions from time to time. But a big strength of the scientific process is that it is self-correcting. If you’ve ever spent any time in the open source community, you know how it works. The same organized scepticism and peer review that keep open source projects churning out good code are the same facets of the scientific process that keep good ideas flowing.

Continue reading “Correlation != Causation”

Jon Watson

View Jon Watson CD, Linux+'s profile on LinkedIn

I am a Linux sysadmin. I currently work in the security industry, but I’ve worked in a lot of verticals in my career. Banking was the most regulated, defence was the most secure and entertainment was the scariest. Terrifying.

I’m a capital ‘ST’ STEM guy. I love science and technology and how it changes the way in which we interact with the world. I don’t know much about engineering and my math skills are tragic. I have a college diploma in Computer Information Systems, and I have been in this field long enough to figure out that a deeper understanding of the science of computing is required in order to continue doing interesting things. To that end, I’m in the middle of a Comp Sci degree. For kicks I do things like maintain a Fidonet BBS. My personal blog is here and I write security and privacy related articles for Comparitech here. I also do a weekly-ish tech-ish podcast with my wife called The JaK Attack! podcast here. Here’s a list of some other things I’ve done that may or may not interest you.

Open Source Projects


WordfyFace: Pebble Classic watch face written in C.


Duplicity Menu: A console based front-end for the Duplicity backup application written in C++.

Post It Once: PHP script that allows web users to post status updates and full blog entries to their Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress blogs in one fell swoop.



A History of Computer Operating Systems.

Linux Journal

VirtualBox: Bits and Bytes Masquerading as Machines.

Break the Hardware Upgrade Cycle with Win4Lin Windows Virtual Desktop Server.

Podcasting for the Penguin!

Linux Magazine

Convenient Castle.

Sound Saver.

I also manage the Top Canadian VPN website.