Where in the World…

Perhaps I am a bit nuts. If you have been reading my posts at all, you probably came to that conclusion a long time ago, but for the new people that just came in, it is a possibility. Then again, you have to be a tad off to stay sane in the world anymore.

To wit, over the next few days, I hope to be taking up a new position that will require a bit of travel. Not that unusual, I have had these sorts of jobs before, but this time, even the Welcome Aboard and Indoctrination is going to require me to travel. I expect that for a while, I will be like Carmen. I will not know where I am, or what I am doing until I get there.

Want to play along? I will see if I can find the time to post some pictures of where I am, and you can try and guess the city. I might even post the famous ones. In the meantime, wish me luck!

Play Ball!

The first game is in the books (Tampa Bay beat the New York Yankees), and San Francisco is up on Arizona in the seventh on the back of not one but two home runs hit by the pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. Yes, the pitcher has hit two home runs on Opening Day. This afternoon ends up with the Cubs and the Cardinals at 8:35 this evening.

I am happy that Opening Day is here. I am not crazy about the three games to start the season, and I am still not a huge fan of the instant replay, but the good news is that baseball is back for 2017.

On the ice, Boston beat Chicago and has leapfrogged Toronto in the standings for the last playoff spot (yeah, and Ottawa too, but who cares about Ottawa, eh?). So it looks like the Leafs are golf course bound. The Jays open in Baltimore tomorrow (which means I will only get to see replays since I cannot stream the game at work, being in MASN’s backyard – yes, someday the leagues will realize how much they are cutting off the fans, but that’s another argument).

Pass the hot dogs, the Cracker Jack, and the beverage of choice. The 2017 MLB season is here. And minor league too. I will be going to see the Potomac Nations at some point as well.

Go Jays!

Your Rights Are Not What You Think

“Aden described the scene in a Facebook post Saturday, adding that the officer who told him that he wasn’t being detained has an “ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution that should disqualify him as a customs officer.” (WTOP)

Regrettably for Mr. Aden, as well as everyone else that considers themselves a citizen of the United States, whether natural born or legally converted, the law is not that clear and the rights granted under the Constitution do not actually apply as you have been deluded into believing (and if you think a Founding Father or two just rolled over, join the crowd). The article What Customs and Border Officials Can and Can’t Do highlights this in chilling detail.

As more and more of us are learning, especially with the more tyrannical leadership under Number 45, the Constitutional provisions off you no protections within 100 miles of the United States Border. Let me say that again. According to the law, any member of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) has the legal right to stop you, perform an unsanctioned search and seizure, and detain you without a warrant. If your jaw just hit the floor, join the club. If you are confused, think about this. The Border of the United States is not just with Canada and Mexico. There is an invisible border twelve miles off the coast of the United States. Take a ruler. Draw a line from that 12-mile limit one hundred miles into the interior of the United States. Draw it one hundred miles from the US/Canadian border and 100 miles from the Mexican border. Tell me how many cities are inside that border? Tell me how much of the population fo the United States lives inside that line. Upset yet? You should be. Inside that zone, many of the provisions of the Constitution can be suspended without cause and there is nothing you can do about it. And it is only going to get worse, not better.

The person in the street shrugs, security comes first [B. Cockburn]. If that is your attitude, either you never plan to travel anywhere, or you do not understand how damaging this is to our foreign relationships. But as this sort of nonsense continues, it is likely that the United States will see a departure of its citizens. Those citizens that have the option to go somewhere else. The brain drain started when the IRS cracked down, in many cases irrationally, on funds overseas. This resulted in serious backlash in financial markets that is already causing issues with US funds abroad. This type of harassment of citizens and foreigners alike will have negative impacts. Travel, tourism, and good will are important in international relations. When the country’s citizens are treated as criminals, the only one left will be criminals.

I listened, now it is your turn

I did not write this, but it sums up the previous eight years and highlights just what the next four years will be. And if you think I have pulled my punches before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

“I listened as they called my President a Muslim.
I listened as they called him and his family a pack of monkeys.
I listened as they said he wasn’t born here.
I watched as they blocked every single path to progress that they could.
I saw the pictures of him as Hitler.
I watched them shut down the government and hurt the entire nation twice.
I watched them turn their backs on every opportunity to open worthwhile dialog.
I watched them say that they would not even listen to any choice for Supreme Court no matter who the nominee was.
I listened as they openly said that they will oppose him at every turn.
I watched as they did just that.
I listened.
I watched.
I paid attention.
Now, I’m being called on to be tolerant.
To move forward.
To denounce protesters.
To “Get over it.”
To accept this…
I will not.
I will do my part to make sure this great American mistake becomes the embarrassing footnote of our history that it deserves to be.
I will do this as quickly as possible every chance I get.
I will do my part to limit the damage that this man can do to my country.
I will watch his every move and point out every single mistake and misdeed in a loud and proud voice.
I will let you know in a loud voice every time this man backs away from a promise he made to them.
Them. The people who voted for him.
The ones who sold their souls and prayed for him to win.
I will do this so that they never forget.
And they will hear me.
They will see it in my eyes when I look at them.
They will hear it in my voice when I talk to them.
They will know that I know who they are.
They will know that I know what they are.
Do not call for my tolerance. I’ve tolerated all I can.
Now it’s their turn to tolerate ridicule.
Be aware, make no mistake about it, every single thing that goes wrong in our country from this day forward is now Trump’s fault just as much as they thought it was Obama’s.
I find it unreasonable for them to expect from me what they were entirely unwilling to give.”

–Author Unknown

I Need A Specific Browser?

The only browser that the system supports is IE , Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. We recommend the most (sic) IE browser.

Excuse me while I check the calendar. Yup, it does say it is December, 2016. And yes, that is a message I received from a web site that I was having trouble entering data on. Data that is mission critical. Data, that is consumed by a python application on the back end where the servers that are serving the data are Linux based and the processing is done in an AWS environment. And yet, the code the browser is using is specifically written to run best on Microsoft Internet Explorer. And I wish I could say this is an anomoly. I am still encountering websites that require Flash, or versions of IE that are so old that their security risks have security risks. And yet that is the state of the art in a day when most people are making transations via the mobile devices, which are either on i-devices (which primarily run Safari) or Android devices, that primarily run Chrome. Sure you can load Chrome on to i-devices, or other browsers, but 99% of users do not, and for a good reason. Why would you?

I abandoned Windows completely about a year ago for Mac. Yes, I still have one laying around somewhere, but I have not turned it on in several months, and it would take hours to come up to speed with the 10,000 patches that probably need to be applied. But even I do not use my Mac that much anymore. For example this post is being written on my iPad. Yesterday I was doing a number of things in my AWS envrionment from this same iPad. And if I had a monitor handy, I could do it from my iPhone. Why do I need to carry a laptop anymore? Why do I need to have a specific operating system any more. I do not need a specific a browser to create this post, so why do I need a specific browser to type in data to a form on a web site! This is not 1999. If you are still restricting your broswers, it is time to upgrade your application development. Or you will lose customers. Or at least annoy them to the point that they will not be giving you good reviews on-line.

Fountain for Scriptwriting

I recently discovered fountain, a markdown syntax specifically designed for script writing. i have done a couple of experiments with it, both quite successful. The real test though is how well it imports into Celtx, my script writing software of choice. And I must say it works pretty well. i had to make a couple of minor corrections with parentheticals. I made a couple of errors when I composed the base document, but that was easily remedied and when I corrected the base document, it imported cleanly.

I have been an avid user of Celtx for years. The product is solid and has a robust user community. Their updates are well thought out and their Studio application/eco-system that supports more than just writing scrips is great for those on a budget. The only negative is that it is web based (with some features available for iOS). In most cases this is not a big show stopper, unless, like me, you are disconnected when you do your primary writing. The iOS apps do allow for off-line editing, but what about when I am using my Linux desktop?

Celtx no longer supports their desktop client (and I never could get it to run on Linux properly), so for these situations, the fountain format is a great find. It has a robust ecosystem around it and is also good for those who are just starting out and looking for an entry into script writing.

Experienced script writers will like a number of power features that allow you to go from treatment to script in the same document, depending on how you post-process it. And because it is an open standard, it allows you to store and reprocess scripts over time. A major plus as the software landscape is always changing.

Another nice feature is the ability to embed script segments into a blog with a nice WordPress plug in. As you can see, it is quite a nice little feature, and no additional work on my part than wrapping the text.

INT. LIVING ROOM – DAY

The door crashes open and BILL TURNER crashes into the room, blood pouring from two gun shot wounds. He is holding his abdomen as he staggers and falls to his knees. ALICE GEORGE is sitting on the couch.

ALICE

(screams)

Who are you! What are you doing here?

BILL

Currently bleeding. Call 9-1-1!

Bill falls to the floor.

If you are not already familiar with it, I encourage you to look into it and see if it fits your needs. I am more than happy with what it provides.

An Open Letter To Starbucks

Starbucks, it is time to rethink our relationship. It has been a good run. Almost twenty years of providing me a morning jolt, a quiet place to sit and prepare for the day, a quick breakfast on the way to any number of events. But I think we have come to the end of the run. Now do not get the wrong idea. The quality of the prepared food is still acceptable, and the coffee is still what gets me going in the morning most days. And least you think I am upset about the new rewards program, I am not. In fact, it suits me better than the old one. On any weekend I am expending $40 a day and only getting one star for that, the same as for buying a bottle of water. But I was not in the reward program for the stars. Heck, I probably have let more than a dozen free drinks fly by.

No, I am afraid the problem is service. Pure and simple. Starbucks used to be the gold standard for customer service. But lately, something has come off the rails. And not just a little. Allow me to illustrate.

I have two Starbucks within a mile of my house, pretty much on the same street. I pick one over the other by proximity. What we call in the business, the intervening opportunity. I visit the store that is closest to what I am doing at the time. Today, when I pulled up, there were fifteen cars in the drive-through. When I walked into the store, there were at least ten waiting to place their orders. This being a Saturday, you can expect that most people are ordering more than one item. I did not even pause, but turned on my heel and left. With only three people behind the counter, I did not have much confidence that I could get in and out quickly, and I had a bit of a time crunch.

Instead, I went to the other shop. Again, busy, but not as busy and the people ahead of me were only ordering one item. I placed my order and waited. This is where we come to the second problem in service, quality control. My daughter likes frappuccinos, but is not a fan of whipped cream. Go figure. So I always order hers without. Starbucks, if you could make one rapid improvement, it would be in the literacy of your baristas. In the dozen odd years I have been ordering her frappuccinos, without whipped cream, your baristas have got it wrong 50% of the time. And in 90% of those cases, it has been marked correctly on the cup!

I am not going to expect perfection. The baristas are human. Stuff happens. I expect that an order will be wrong on occasion. The problem is that the definition of occasion is not weekly. Worse, if this was something that happened in only one store, I would have a quiet word with the manager and that would be that. But it is not just one store. And it is not the only error, which have run the gamut from missing coffee in coffee drinks, missing syrups and sometimes straight up the wrong drink. I could go on. Since most of my drinks are coffee drinks, I am usually far away from the store before I notice something wrong at which point it is more of a hassle to go back.

Which brings me to the last issue. I would have words with the manager, but I cannot easily tell who the manager is. I am the first one to say that leadership and age are not synonymous, but sometimes the oldest person in the store is the worst offender and the youngest is the manager. Maybe if you make them stand out like the coffee masters, it would be easier to bring these issues to their attention.

Are these insurmountable issues? No. Are they resolvable? Yes, and in many cases, very easily. If it was just one store, I would chalk it up to that store and find another, but it is apparent that it is systemic. And because of this, I am considering my alternatives. Including making it myself.

Camp Nanowrimo

CNW_Participant_FacebookIt is April, and at least in Washington, DC, that thing called climate change is in full affect. And by full, I mean temperatures are below normal and we are likely to go from winter into full summer with no spring. It feels like November, so, why not write? It is time for Camp Nanowrimo, or as the old guard used to call it Script Frenzy. And while you can write a script, that month dedicated to just writing scripts has expanded. Again, the goal is 50,000 words in 30 days, or about 1,667 words a day. As today is April 4, and I have yet to come up with much of an idea about what I want to write, this may end faster than it began, but it may also prove out to be successful. I have been known to turn and burn on a book, or script in fifteen days. So all hope is not yet lost.

But, if you have ever wanted to write that great insert your nation here novel, this is your chance. Anyone can do it. So, what are you waiting for? 1,700 words takes as little as an hour a day to crank out. All you have to do is start.

Why Primaries?

Sunday morning, I awoke to discover that Marco Rubio had won the primary in Puerto Rico. Two thoughts emerged from this.

First, why is there a primary in Puerto Rico? Or Guam? Or any other non-state, since none of these people get to actually vote in the Presidential Election because none of these jurisdictions send people to the Electoral College. They do not even have voting representation in the House or Senate. So why, exactly, was there a primary there?

And this brought me to my second question. Who, exactly is paying for all of these primaries? I have a sinking feeling it is me. In my little town, they had to pull out the voting machines and ran through the process as if it was a real election, including the full up election board. My question – why? Who cares? Why does this have to be done this way and, more importantly, why do I have to pay for it? The primaries are a function of the parties. They created them, they direct when they happen, and they throw a snit whenever one state or another decides to hold them out of some predetermined order.

Again, why?

I have to dig back through US history, but I cannot believe that this whole circus of primaries has been around since the beginning. And I am pretty sure most Americans would be relieved if they did not have to listen to all the vitriol and blovating that has been consuming the media for the better part of the last two years, and certainly since the beginning of 2016. Is there a reason that the United States cannot choose a President in less than four years? At the very least, is there a reason we have to go through the mess that is the primaries? Given how few people actually voted in the primaries, most have tuned out the noise. If the goal is to get more people involved, perhaps the cycle should be condensed. I know I would pay more attention if the elections stated in September and ended in November of the same year. Instead of starting in December, the month after the elections have occured.

Windows 10 Security Issues are not Overblown

As a technology professional, I have been reading ComputerWorld for most of my career. Most of the time, the information in it is useful and occasionally biased. But the bias is easy to pick out and people will generally roll their eyes and move on. However, today, while reading a different article, I came across an August 25, 2015 article by Preston Gralla on 4 overblown Windows 10 worries that made my jaw hit the floor and actually question if Preston is working directly for Microsoft, because I cannot imaging an objective journalist writing some of the things he says, at least a journalist with any technical skill whatsoever.

Now, I am going to start by saying that Windows 8, as an operating system had a number of problems that really made me wonder what Microsoft was thinking, but the more I hear about Windows 10, the more I am convinced that Microsoft knows exactly what I am thinking, and what they are thinking runs diametrically against what most technicians and other IT professionals (especially security professionals) feel and operating system should be doing. The article tackles four key features of Windows 10 that have security people (and others concerned about digital privacy and security) pretty much wrapped around the axel.

First: Wi-Fi Sense will share all your passwords

Preston say this is not true, then goes on to explain why it is. He also says it is a good and necessary thing.

The concept behind Wi-Fi Sense is a solid one: To make it easier for visitors to find and connect to Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi Sense lets you share your network with others without seeing the actual network passwords – the passwords are encrypted and stored on Microsoft’s servers so they aren’t visible to outside users.

Let me explain. Wi-fi Sense shares your passwords with other users and they are stored on Microsoft’s servers. Oh, sure, they are encrypted, but are they encrypted with your keys? Do you control the revocation of the passwords? If you answered yes, please box up your PC and return it to where you bought it. The fact that this feature is enabled by default is a massive security hole. He tries to bloviate by saying it was invented by a similar idea invented by the Open Wireless Movement, but you can be sure the OWM had much less specific user information in mind for its implementation than what Microsoft has implemented. He goes on to say you have to take another step to actually share the key. Again, that it is enabled by default is a bad idea. The second step is merely a feel-good panacea. And since most home users do not have good network security, the myth that users on your network will not be able to get to other resources is just that a myth. This feature should not be part of any implementation of any operating system. If I want someone to have access to my Wi-Fi, I will provide them that access in a way that does not jeopardize my network, nor provides critical infrastructure information to an unknown third-party system.

Second: Windows 10 updates are automatically installed on your system, and that is a bad thing.

Says Preston:

The concern here is that, unlike previous versions of Windows, Windows 10 doesn’t give you a choice about when (or which) Windows updates will be installed on your computer. What Microsoft sends to you will be installed, whether you like it or not, and as a result, an update could break something on your PC – for example, a driver for a peripheral like a printer.

The truth is much more sinister.

It’s true that if you have the Windows 10 Home edition, you don’t have a choice about installing Windows 10 updates – Microsoft sends them and your system installs them.

And the fact is that most people have will be running Windows 10 Home. And you really should have a choice about what you will install because while most of Microsoft’s core patches are necessary, I have spend hours helping my less technologically savvy friends recover from a bad patch, or roll back a peripheral patch that caused a once working device to fail. And it happens more than anyone would like to admit.

I am all for installing patches and keeping your systems as current as possible, but not all patches should be blindly installed and certainly not on the day they are released. Let other people be the Guinea pigs. This is especially true with some of the less than successful browser updates in Microsoft’s past.

Third: Microsoft’s use of peer-to-peer networking for Windows updates will slow down your network connection.

Says Preston:

With Windows 10, Microsoft uses a trick borrowed from peer-to-peer networking apps like BitTorrent in order to distribute updates more efficiently. Rather than have everyone get updates from a central server, the updates are also delivered from PC to PC.

Microsoft “BITS” service has been around for a long time. Systems Management Server and the updated Systems Center Configuration Manager have used BITS for distributing files across low-bandwidth links. Preston likens the model to the way Bit Torrent works. But unless you have a slow bandwidth (and some do), this is actually not an effective way to deliver packets for an update. Further, there is a risk that the Peer-to-Peer network can be infiltrated. I fully expect that there will be a viable penetration before year-end if there is not one already. Again, you can turn it off, but it should not be enabled by default to begin with.

Fourth: Windows 10 is a privacy nightmare.

Well, honestly, it is. Preston even admits it by saying:

Most of the fears have to do with Windows 10’s default privacy settings, created during the installation if you use the express install option. With those default options, Windows 10 will send your calendar and contact details to Microsoft; assign you an advertising ID that can track you on the Internet and, when using Windows apps, track your location; and send your keystrokes and voice input to Microsoft.

He goes on to say that you can turn them all off. Two things wrong with this. First, opt-in, not opt-out should be the default setting for anything being sent anywhere. Period, end of sentence. Secondly, there are still a number of things that security professional are finding being sent to Microsoft even if you turn them off. Compound that by even more errors when you actively block the transmission of data to Microsoft. This is not a secure operating system. This is an information sieve.

What really upsets me is this:

Let’s face it – every time you use a computer, you’re living with tradeoffs between your privacy and getting things done more easily.

No. Privacy should never be a trade-off. Deciding what and when I send information to unknown third-parties should always be my decision, not the decision of an organization that knows better than me. Most home users do not know any better, which means that Microsoft should actively be helping them better protect themselves than exposing them to harm.

He concludes his article with this statement:

But other concerns have been overblown – in many cases you can change the defaults to make the operating system work more to your liking. And other concerns – for example, that Wi-Fi Sense automatically shares your Wi-Fi passwords with your friends and friends of friends – are myths.

No, they are not myths. They are facts, enabled by default, and while some of them can be turned off, the average user needs a much larger skill set than in past versions of Windows. Microsoft is not interested in their customer’s privacy, or security, or these, and other features would not be enabled by default, and that is not a myth.