Monday, June 22, 2009

How many fluid ounces between Boston to New York?

That doesn't make any sense, measuring distance with a volume measurement.  Inches of iStock_000000981533XSmallmoney doesn't really tell us how much beer we can afford, either.  But we mis-measure all the time, applying the wrong metrics to things.

The errors aren't always this obvious, however.  Back in the Dark Ages, when I worked in the automotive world, the EPA got some teeth and started really cracking down on auto emissions.  It needed to be done, and I am glad it was- but there were bureaucrats and engineers involved- so it was needlessly convoluted and many things were just plain wrong.  One of the real advances in cutting emissions was the introduction of "low smog" fuel blends.  Fuels that burn cleaner, that's a great idea, right?  Stop.  Define cleaner.  That's easy- reduced harmful emissions.  (Or at least a reduction in the pollutants that they were measuring, but that's another story).  But that is meaningless by itself- because...

Vehicles do not exist to burn fuel, they exist to transport people and products. 

Oh, no- this may involve math, and variables, and stuff. Crap.  And since engineers and bureaucrats were involved (and probably even scientists), they decided to weigh mileage.  Sure enough, the emissions from the fuel were lower than the old, dirty fuel...per kilogram of fuel burned.  Too bad the stuff had fewer BTUs per kilogram than the old fuel, because the substantial loss in fuel economy somewhat offset the reduction in emissions when you considered emissions using a valid measurement, emissions per mile traveled.

So, were the gains real?  Yes.  Were they overstated by pinheads weighing miles?  Yes.  Did the pinheads appreciate being called on this oversight?  Not especially.  Moral?  Don't be a pinhead.

Now the tricky bit- what are the right measurements in security?  You already know that in my version of InfoSec NIST, there is one immutable measurement, failure.  It isn't the only measure, just the one most likely to kick you while you're down, so respect it.

As far as wrong measurements- I know you can come up with plenty of those on your own.