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April 21, 2005



I hope you're right just for the sheer embarrassment he would go through!


of course the emails would be admissible in any civil litigation - why would you say otherwise? at the very least, they would be discoverable.


Depending on how the university network is set up and what sort of logging happens, some of what he said (as I recall it) isn't that implausible.

If the laptop doesn't have a power-on password then the thief would've had no problems just starting it up. It's probably set to automatically connect/associate to the university's wireless network when Windows starts or resumes (it may be a stretch, but I strongly suspect it's running Windows XP). If the university keeps logs of connections (by MAC and/or system name) then he may be able to find out what wireless access point(s) it connected to.

Depending on how savvy the prof is, it might be set up to use something like dyndns.org with an auto-update any time the system is turned on. If there are logs available for that, he might be able to determine what portion of the campus the user was in if said campus is divided into different subnets by geographic area.

Finally, he might actually have one of the commercial tracking packages that "phones home" every time the system is started with all available information about the system connections. It wouldn't be difficult for the system to silently connect out to a site and pass along a tracking system ID ("username/account number"), the MACs of any network connection devices installed, all IP addresses associated with the devices (and with "transient" connections like dialup), the IP addresses of the gateways for any connections and the MAC addresses associated with those gateways. Pretty much all of that information could be gathered easily on Windows, and the site receiving the report would also have the IP address that it was received from (assuming that the machine was NATted behind a firewall).

That bundle of information would with a little work allow a competent IT department to determine what access points were used; if some or all were in a particular dorm or group of dorms then you've probably narrowed your suspect list down substantially.


It is possible to track location to within
about 10 feet using software that can connect to all your WiFi access points:


Many universities are playing with this
technology and there are quite a few companies
offering it for sale also (e.g., wherenet,
aeroscout). Some of them can only track
special tags or Wifi devices running
special software. However others can
track any WiFi device without the users


Seems to me that threats and the fear of god like retribution hides the fact that if the data was so super duper sensitive, it should have been

a. encrypted
b. backed up
c. not be available for theft so easily...


In reference to the Berkeley Professor who lost his laptop, many blogs have stated from a technological perspective on why the professor may of been lying. Well from a psychology perspective Gavin de Becker has some interesting things to say. The author of 'The Gift of Fear' says that when people are trying to deceive someone else they'll give too many details. The person being deceived may be convinced but the deceiver will keep on adding details because he himself is not yet convinced of the lie. The tactic itself is one of many used to lower peoples social boundaries. Other tactics can be found here: http://www.kidpower.org/Articles/boundary-lowering.html

Brian Carnell

You should clarify this:

"Chapela wrote a paper, published and then retracted from Nature about Genetically Modified food contaminating other crops in Mexico."

You should reword or make a note to the effect that Chapela stands by his (shoddy, IMO) work, but that Nature withdrew the paper.

Also, I'm not sure where you're coming up witth this Novartis angle. The main conflict-of-interest revolves around Sygenta. Berkely has an agreement with Syngenta. Chapela has been very critical of that agreement with Syngenta. Rine oversaw the Sygenta agreement.

Frankly, though, Chapela's work is so shoddy that I doubt the fact that Rine was one of the people who sat on the tenure committee is going to be actionable. Rine clearly thought Chapela was a lousy researcher, citing the Nature study as an example of shoddy science prior to the tenure review.

Contrary to your claim, most of what Rine says is possible, though the various combination of things seem very implausible. He sounds like he's misunderstanding what his IT people are telling him.

He mentions there's a photo and the wireless lan. Its completely plausible that someone steals a laptop, fires it up in an area that is being monitored by video camera, IT folks look at logs later and determine the wireless connected with an access point in this videotaped area and they retrieve video looking for someone with the laptop.

Far-fetched? Yes. Impossible? No.

David Rothschild

Brian, thank you for the correction- the post has been clarified to say that Nature pulled the article

On the biology subject, I plead ignorance again- if you have some links to information about it, I'll look over it.

And I was going to dispute the wording of your post, because I deliberately used the word "implausible" rather than impossible. But, going over it again, the "transponder" and the much mocked Microsoft tracking information, I'm going to call bullshit on the whole thing, and accept the egg on my face if the laptop is tracked that way. The piling on of detail after detail, as Jon pointed out above, just rings false to me.

That said, I've got no particular moral problem with someone bluffing their way into getting stolen property back. If it works, God bless 'em. A few years ago, when I thought my Palm mysteriously disappeared off my desk and that one of the my coworkers was looking squirrely, I mentioned that it would probably be found in the office pretty quickly, because there was a loudish alarm that would be going off before too long. You can weigh the fact that I later realized I left the Palm near the bathroom sink however you want to when considering my ability to judge these events.


Umm...as much as I like conspiracy theories...the laptop was stolen right before the Biology 1A second midterm. It might sound like a stupid reason to steal a laptop... but that class causes fledgling MCB students a large amount of stress (mostly because they dont' know what to expect and the class is a very fast paced one)- the record thus far for a single student NOT PASSING the class is SIX attempts and counting. There is also a large patched up hole in the VLSB hallway where the lab sessions meet- made by one of the students who couldn't handle the fact that he was failing, and took it out on the wall. SO, as much as I would like to endulge in the "Oh what if it was an activist theory" its far more likely that some stressed out, flailing student thought he could get a leg up on the curve by getting a preview of the midterm.

As for the bluffing. If the theif believed him, it might have worked. Heck, what do I know about the inner workings and such of the university's elite? If something valuable had been stolen from me and I had narrowed the suspects down to about half the class - I'd try some kind of stunt to get it back too. What was he supposed to do? Let it go without comment?

Besides- regardless of whether there was conflict of interest in the Chapela tenure story- He was only ONE MEMBER of the board. Its not as if his decision is the end of discussion.

And as for the technical standpoint. I dont know anything. And from experience with MOST (exceptions exist) of the older generation and proffessors on campus- most of them know about as much as I do. He might have been bluffing...and he might not have. He might have like someone said earlier- misunderstood what the IT people told him.

As for the information on his laptop- I have no doubt its there. Jasper Rine has been in this field for ages and is one of the most respected scientiests in his field. He is cited in the upperdivision UCB genetics lectures for his early work. Any yeast geneticist (and any geneticist for that matter) who's been around for a few years would have heard of him and his work. There is no reason to doubt that any of that information isn't on the laptop. And you know, if you misunderstand what IT people tell you- you probably don't understand much about encryption either.

Besides- who EXPECTS a laptop to be nabbed infront of tens of people right after class while you are still in the room? There is no reason to encrypt even important files if its on your personal PC and you dont' expect anyone to steal into your office or steal the laptop itself.

Oh and as for the using Chapel's paper as an example in class. He claims it didn't use the right controls- and one of the most important thing a scientist learns- is how to do the correct controls. Without them- the results don't mean a thing.
















Very nice job. Great
















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