The TSA Is Not Happy Unless You Are Not Happy

In case you missed it, the latest TSA/DHI scare has been released:

(CNN) — The U.S. government has warned airlines to pay particular attention to the possibility of terrorists attempting to hide explosives in shoes, a result of new intelligence, according to two people familiar with the situation. (CNN)

Of course, they are saying this is being done in an abundance of caution but honestly, I am not buying it. Call me cynical, but I believe it is more like this….

Because this affects only aircraft coming into the United States from overseas, not Canada or Mexico, I believe that the aviation administrations or the TSA equivalent in these countries were pressuring the United States to get with the program. There was no valid need to have people take off their shoes and subject themselves to what is essentially a strip search, so why was the United States still requiring it?  We have already heard the hue and cry from the so called flight attendants when the TSA tried to reduce the restrictions on knives being brought onto aircraft, so you can imagine the yelling that might occur if they dropped the constant screening of footwear.

But I am much more cynical than that. Despite protestations to the contrary, I fully expect that those of you who have shelled out money to the TSA to probe your background under the so called TSA Pre program and have been promised that you can keep your shoes on will find that you will treated no differently than us poor slaves who refuse to let the government have more access to our personal data than they already have.  So get ready America, you will have to keep taking your shoes off.  And to those of you flying the not so friendly skies, you will as well.

 

I want the extended warranty please

I went to visit the doctor on Monday, because I am getting old. My purpose was to see if there was anything the doctor could do to keep me from coming apart at the seams, which is getting harder and harder by the day as any one could tell you. This time it was my shoulder. Twenty years of swimming and other forms of abuse that I have inflicted on it have begun to take their toll and I was hoping we could keep it operational for at least another dozen years before we have to crack it open and do something more artificial to it. So he made some suggestions, passed me a script for some medication to maybe make it a little less painful to move, and I returned to work.

I only wish it were that simple for others. I lost another friend this month. Nelda was a unique person. I had worked with her at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington for more than seven years. She had one of those conditions where the doctor smiles politely and suggests you get your affairs in order and enjoy the time you have like. To hear Nelda tell it, each time she heard it, she would laugh. I only found out that she was in the hospital the week before she passed and again, the doctors told her it was time. Only I am sure this time she did not laugh.

Nelda was fun. She was a fan of Doctor Who before it was fashionable to be a fan of Doctor Who. She liked the old doctors. She had great stories about her time in the army, talked fondly of her family and was always bring me problems to solve and happy to occasionally stump me. I believe she did it once. Maybe twice.  She was detail oriented. The only person I knew who could write epistles on a BlackBerry, with out a grammatical or spelling error. Even nicely formatted. She had a better grasp on network security than even some of the most experienced CISSPs I know and a keen business sense of when security would impact business operations.  And as many people would tell you, she had a steel trap memory. She did not forget a detail, a meeting, or a decision. And did I mention her Barbie collection?

We buried Nelda today, with military honours due her rank and service. Her friends, family were at the service, and at the burial site at Quantico. When the sun comes out, and the trees are in bloom I will go back and take a picture.  And say good bye.

Snow? What snow?

Six Inches of Snow, Not

Six Inches of Snow, Not

Maybe it is because I grew up in Toronto, where we could get several feet of snow in a winter, maybe it is because my mother made me put on my snowsuit and boots and walk to school. Maybe it was the nature of the times. Regardless, compared to today, I would like to think we as a society were hardier than we are now.  Dare I say we have become weather wimps?

On Tuesday, we had a forecast that predicted we would get between 5 and 8 inches of snow in the region. And the forecasters, as a group, were certain that we would get at least five inches. They said we could take it to the bank. Everyone would get at least this much snow. It would start around 8 AM and be heaviest by noon, tapering off by midnight. Reports around my office in Herndon at noon were saying there was as much as six inches on the ground, roads were slippery and people should stay home. In preparation for this, the Federal Government closed, schools closed, and people huddled together as if tanks were patrolling the streets looking for radicals.  Oh, and it was going to be cold. Single digit wind chills.

I remember a picture from the 1970s.  I might have been 7 or 8, it is hard to tell, and I am bundled up in my blue snowsuit.  The driveway in front of the house is clear and there are piles of snow more than five feet high behind me.  I remember digging tunnels in the snow because it was so high.  There are several of these pictures from different years.  I have strong memories of walking to school in the snow, cursing under my breath about those who could not be bothered to shovel their sidewalks as I trudged through them, snow up to my knees.  And yes, it was uphill, one way.  And I was not older than 13, because I went to a boarding school when I was 13. I walked to school, about a half a mile, through rain, snow, and heat.  Oh, and wind chill.

The morning after

The morning after

Today, Thursday, is the third weather related closure of the schools in Northern Virginia, with only a couple of exceptions. I supposed you could argue that the side streets are too slippery for the buses to safely negotiate. You could argue that it is too cold for the poor little children to stand waiting for that same school bus. I am not sure I believe either. Yes, it is cold. Officially it is supposed to be -2 before you add in the wind chill. I am not sure I believe that temperature as most of the outside thermometers were considerably above that and there is not much wind.  Most of the side streets are really not that bad, certainly negotiable by garbage trucks, and Priuses alike, even the hills, which the buses do not go down. So I am not particularly sure what the reason for closing the schools is. Perhaps it is as simple as people just not having the right clothes?

In 2014, I would have expected that the ability to get children to school, safely, and in most types of weather would have improved over my slogging up a hill in the snow. Clearly, it has not only not improved, but has gotten considerably worse. We bus our children from across the street to the school door (or drive them an equally short distance) and then bemoan the fact that they are overweight.  We complain about lousy traffic, yet fail to properly equip our cars for winter driving by making sure our windshield washer fluid is full and we have sunglasses at the ready for glare. Is it any wonder that when a real disaster strikes, people throw up their hands and demand the government help them? Especially when it is clear they cannot even handle a little snow.

National Handwriting Day – 23rd of January

It is that time of year again, National Handwriting Day!  From my friends at Fahrney’s:

This Thursday (January 23) is National Handwriting Day in the United States. Established in 1977 as a day to acknowledge and celebrate the handwritten word it was created by the Writing Instruments Manufacturing Association “as a chance for all of us to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting”.

On the topic of handwriting, specifically writing letters, I finished reading To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing and really quite enjoyed it. It was a little bit of the history of the written letter, despite Simon Garfield’s initial statements that it was not the purpose of the book. It was a bit of biography, because after all, that it what most letters, that are kept become, the basis for a biography, and a review of the evolution of the post as we know it today. It was a fascinating read. And while he did not outwardly attempt to say that this medium of electronic “mail” is bad, he certainly highlighted many of the failings of not putting pen to paper and sending a letter.

So for National Handwriting Day, I encourage everyone to pick up their pen and write someone they know a letter. Put a stamp on it and mail it! And once you have done that, it is also time for the Annual Handwriting Contest! And like last year, I am going to put my mind to it and my pen and see what I can come up with. You should too!  Deadline is the end of January.

So let’s get writing!

The Virginia Elections Are Over

As we wake up on the 6th of November, 2013, the Commonwealth of Virginia has concluded its election cycle.  And most of the results are in.  But it is not the results so much as the rhetoric around them that I want to discuss.

There are a number of Monday Morning quarterbacks that will be slicing and dicing the win of Terry McAuliffe.  There are many who will be crowing that the challenger, Ken Cuccinelli kept the vote close.  And in fact, the margin between the two candidates is only 55,420 votes.  Barely the margin of error.  Mr. Cuccinelli, in his speech was even heard to say that this was a referendum on the Affordable Care Act and the message was heard loud and clear in Washington. It is at this point that I put my hand up and ask, “did you even look at the numbers?”

Mr. Cuccinelli, a favorite of the Tea Party, has been arguing, despite other legal opinions to the contrary, that the ACA is a violation of the Constitution and the rights of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  He ran his campaign on it and as Attorney General of Virginia brought the first suit against it before the votes in Congress had been fully counted. As I said he lost by a little over 50,000 votes.  According to the numbers, a bit more than 2% of the total vote.  But before we start lifting up the new governor elect, or paying attention to the loser’s trumpeting, we need to look closer.

Mr. McAuliffe won the election with 1,064,016, Mr. Cuccinelli had 1,008,596. In total only 2,217,907 people voted in the election for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 2 million people.  Let me put this in perspective.  The population of the City of Richmond, the capital of the Commonwealth, is 210,309.  The population of the County of Fairfax, the population is 1.119 million. The entire population of the Commonwealth is 8 million. The total voter turn out for the election of Governor – the man who will run the Commonwealth of Virginia for the next four years was half of the total population of her most populated county.  If I added up the population of the entire National Capital Area, I would have a population in excess of two million people.

Now, there are those that will complain that not everyone in Fairfax, or Richmond, is eligible to vote, and that is a fair argument, so I went to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s voter registration site and downloaded the number of voters.  It is quite an interesting spreadsheet.  Based on the number of active voters in the Commonwealth, there should have been about 4 million people vote.  So less than half of what the Commonwealth identifies as active voters bothered to vote.  But to address the pundits who will argue that this election was a referendum of the viability of the Tea Party, or a vote against the  ACA, or even a vote for normalization, I ask you to consider this.  In the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to their own registrations, there are over 5 million registered voters in the Commonwealth. So while the turnout could be argued to be high for an off-year election, it was not even 50% of eligible voters. The new governor was elected with barely 1/5 of the voters in the Commonwealth casting a ballot.  This is not a mandate. It is barely a majority (as 1/5 voted against him). Yet clearly 3/5s of all eligible voters did not care enough to vote.

The take away is this. This election was little more than a blip.  Yes, we who live in the Commonwealth will have to live with the results for the next four years, but as the yelling and screaming about who won rebounds around the nation, remember this – it really does not mean anything.  So do not read anything into this. It was just a local election.

It is only November 1

I have a bone to pick with Starbucks. No, it is not about their product, but about their need to “rush” the season.  Today is November 1, not December 1, yet today the “Christmas cups” have debuted to replace their normal white cups for the “Holiday” season.

Companies that push the Christmas season earlier and earlier bother me. There is no reason why we should be decking the halls before the first of December.  Christmas and its consumption based marketing machine is already long enough at 25 days. We do not need companies pushing it before Hallowe’en – as KMart and Walmart have already done with this year’s season. Do we just leave the tree up all year long?!

If you want me to think good of your company, you will not get into the “holiday” mood until December 1.  I am willing to overlook those that feel that the first Friday after Thanksgiving is the start of the season, but only a bit.  And if you want me to actually buy from your company, you will not be celebrating in my face on the day after Hallowe’en.

On Middle Age

I admit it. I am middle age.  I will be 50 in two years. I fully expect to live until I am 100.  I will also admit that I don’t stay up all night anymore.  I cannot lift as many servers as I used to be able to without being sore for a couple of days after.  I have gotten thicker in the mid-section.  I drink too much coffee, probably too much scotch and do not exercise as much as I should, but none of that is a surprise.

But I do not feel middle aged.  Now I am not sure what middle age is supposed to feel like, as I have only experienced it once, and I am still experiencing it, but I do not feel it.  I am certainly not one of those guys you see on television suffering from the myriad of ailments that supposedly afflict those of us in this generation.  At least, until yesterday I did not feel it.

Then I received this:

It is with great sadness that I share the news that TCS alumnus and long-serving faculty member, Bruce Grandfield ’70, died suddenly this morning when out for a walk.

Bruce Grandfield was one of my teachers at Trinity College School. He was also an Old Boy.  And he was only fifteen years older than I am, as well as my fellow classmates. I remember him as an active member of the school, both inside and outside of the classroom.  He was vigorous. And while I had not had contact with him lately, I do not doubt that he was still very active.  Heck, he was still middle age!

I know that I am now of an aged when those I knew, especially those who were my teachers, my mentors, those I looked up to, will begin to die.  It is the natural way of things. But that does not mean that their passing will happen without notice or without serving to make those of us who knew them feel, just perhaps, a little bit older.

I know my fellow Old Boys will stand with me and raise a glass to Mr. Grandfield, and extend our condolences to his family. And remember that life may be fleeting.  But that it does not have to be feared.

 

If you wondered, is the US a Police State? The answer is – yes.

Over the last few months, the citizens, residents, and visitors to the United States have been regaled with stories of how the Government of the United States has been invading their privacy, opening their mail, listening to their phone calls, and generally monitoring their daily lives.  Of course, this is all in the name of security and to protect the public from the bad guys.

Up to this point in time, the revelations have been about how the National Security Administration are capturing your metadata, but not actually listening to your calls or reading your mail in real-time – they claim. But we have always suspected that other aspects of our life were under scrutiny.

Today, we got our answer:

The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information. (New York Times)

What starches my socks is not that the TSA is doing this.  We pretty much knew they were doing this, even if we did not know they were doing this. No, what really galls me is that the TSA has a new program, called TSA Pre, which:

…allows select frequent flyers of participating airlines and members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs who are flying on participating airlines, to receive expedited screening benefits. Eligible participants use dedicated screening lanes for screening benefits which include leaving on shoes, light outerwear and belts, as well as leaving laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags.

And to get this benefit, you have to fill out an on-line application, have an in-person interview and, most importantly, pay the TSA for the privilege every five years!  Currently the fee is $85.  Now some frequent flyer programs include this in the ticket price, but for the average Joe Flyer, you are on the hook.  Yet the TSA is already doing a complete scan before you board for free!  OK, so it is not really free.  I have already paid for it with my taxes, fees, and other departure costs rolled into the ticket.

So what is the point?  Already, the United States has more secure screening processes in place, compared to the rest of the world.  I can leave my shoes and belt on in Europe and Canada.  The x-ray machines can already pick out my laptop.  And frankly the screening outside the US is much better than what the TSA is doing.  So why should I be paying the TSA?  They already know more about me than I do.  I have already paid the fee, several times over, and they already have done the in-person interview, every single time I fly.

I am opposed to the police state the United States has become.  There are a number of reasons for this. But to charge the flying public to go through security is really taking the cake. As the saying goes: There’s a sucker born every minute. Clearly the American public is the sucker, and their own government is taking advantage.

“Requires Facebook” is a recipe for an automatic fail

For the better part of the last four years, I have managed, quite well I might add, to do without a Facebook account.  Yet, despite this, more an more applications seem to be depending or relying on you having a Facebook account in order to use them.  This is true of a wide range of things from comment boards to business applications.  What baffles me is why anyone would tie their application to Facebook.

Sure, I get the idea that the general public is stupid when it comes to technology.  They cannot remember their passwords (which is why Apple put a fingerprint scanner on the new iPhone), they cannot manage to understand what a URI is or why it matters, and basic interfaces confuse them, but Facebook is hardly the panacea, and worse, it opens the end user up to even more insecurities and potential application and privacy leakage.

So from this point forward, if your application, chat room, or comment board requires a Facebook account to use, I will give it an automatic fail and one star rating.  Real application development does not rely on some other application for its security model. And the general public should not accept any application or solution that does.

Srsly?

If you have been following along with me for any period of time, you know that I have a thing about language.  And not only language but formal use of language. And a few people will tell you that I cannot spell to save my life (thank goodness for the red wavy line).  That being said, when I get an email like this, I cringe:

BABE… i guess your not getting any of my email huh? ive been tryign to email u so many times but this dam laptop is such a piece of garbage and keeps freezing.. anyways how u been?

Of course, it is a spam message. At the bottom of a very long, almost unreadable, 1000 word message is a come on link that I assure you, you do not want to click. It is a typical example of this sort of thing, but what really surprises me is how bad the language is.  Not just the random capitalization (and lack there of) and the slang shortcuts but just bad English. It concerns me that someone thinks this is the right way to to send mail. And since they have sent it, that people might actually write and talk this way!  If this is the future of the English language, I have a very dim view of the next generation.
Not to mention the spammers.