Apparently I am an Extremist


Linux Journal Reader – Extremest Stamp

Apparently, not only me, but my fellow Linux Journal Readers (and one assumes, article writers, editors, artists, code monkeys, and celery flingers) are viewed by the United States National Security Agency as extremists. The first of many articles (from the Linux Journal’s Kyle Rankin) says:

“While that is troubling in itself, even more troubling to readers on this site is that has been flagged as a selector! has published the relevant XKEYSCORE source code, and if you look closely at the rule definitions, you will see* listed alongside Tails and Tor.” You can read the full article at the Linux Journal site (if you dare).

What bothers me is a number of things. First, what business does the NSA have monitoring traffic to and from a US based web site for a formerly US published magazine (LJ is now a digital only magazine)? The NSA is not supposed to have the authority to monitor the site under US law. But of course, since when do these agencies pay any attention to US law?

Secondly, numerous visitors to this (and other FOSS sites) are administrators and security cleared employees and contractors of the United States Government, including the very NSA that has flagged us. This is Orwellian on a number of levels (and my head explodes just trying to follow the mobius strip of that logic).

Finally, this announcement come a month after the US Secret Service put a Request for Proposal on the street for software to help them detect sarcasm in social media.  Why buy software, there are hundreds of 14 year-olds out there that can help you detect sarcasm and it will cost a lot less that automated software. Perhaps the NSA has been sucked in by the heavy focus the denizens in the LJ chatroom (#linuxjournal on put on celery and lube and do not have enough 14 year-olds to help them differentiate between sarcasm and serious discourse.

Let’s face it. This is a crock. Not that the NSA is watching us, but that there is anything extreme about the readers, contributors, and staff of the Linux Journal.  Are we passionate? Sure. Are we a bit goofy? What gathering of nerds is not?  Are we extreme? Sure, if we are talking vi vs EMACs, or what SHA value should be used. But we are no more hard core extreme than any other member of the NRA, the local Harley-Davidson motorcycle club, or your local PTA.  In fact, I would argue there are social groups out there that make LJ readers look like a knitting circle.

Pass the celery.

When a coup is not a coup?

In Thailand this morning:

(CNN) — It was 3 a.m. in Thailand. Presumably barely anyone was watching. But the country’s military chief chose that hour to appear on army-run Channel 5 television Tuesday to declare martial law across the country.

If there was ever a case of Orwellian doublespeak and Microsoft level spin, this is it. There have been several non-coups coups in the last couple of years, but this one is the most bizarre of all of them. When you listen to the spin, you hear phrases like “The caretaker government…” and “safety and security…” which really makes the small hairs stand up on the back of my neck. But it is not a coup?

From Wikipedia:

A coup d’état also known as a coup, a putsch, or an overthrow, is the sudden and illegal seizure of a government, usually instigated by a small group of the existing state establishment to depose the established government and replace it with a new ruling body, civil or military.

OK, so maybe it is not a coup in the purest sense of the term, but based on some of the groups that the military is securing (read rounding up) sure smells like it is acting as a small group preparing to dispose the existing government. The social structure of Asian countries baffles me, so maybe it is all for the good.  But I am pretty sure it is a coup.




High court voids overall contribution limits

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court struck down limits Wednesday in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees. (WTOP)

I am not sure how anyone can see this as anything but a bad thing for American politics. It is now an open market for special interests and political action committees buying their seats in the legislature.  The 2012 Presidential process cost more than $1 billion dollars. With a national debt in the trillions, millions of people out of work and the Congress squabbling over who will pay for much needed benefits, people contributed more than a billion dollars to elect the president.

There is no more democracy in the United States. It is now just an issue of price. How much can you afford to pay?


Pod Garbage

This year, the company expects to sell nearly three billion K-Cups, the plastic and tinfoil pods that are made to be thrown away — filter, grounds and all — after one use. (NYTimes)

Perhaps I have a different view of trash, but worrying about the various pods being thrown out, even in the quantity that are being reported, is a tempest in a tea pot. As someone that generally only drinks one cup of coffee a day, I find the convenience of the pods to be useful. I do not end up wasting coffee by throwing out coffee that has gone bad through lack of consumption. Sure, there is some plastic being thrown out, but I throw out more plastic through the various bottles that come with juice, milk and wrapped around meat. But I know that I am not the normal case. If you happen to drink a lot of coffee, or if your office uses them instead of bulk coffee, there is probably a lot more plastic involved.

But while we are worrying about plastic, there seems to be a minimum amount of concern over the heavy metal in compact florescent lights and batteries that are constantly thrown into landfills. There have been several reports about this, so it is not a surprise, but there is no hue and cry over this. In case you did not know this, compact florescent light bulbs are not to be thrown out – they have to be recycled because they are hazmat. Technically, because of the amount of mercury in them, if you break one, you are supposed to call the Hazmat team to deal with it.

But instead, we are worried about plastic cups. And we wonder why the United States is having issues…




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.


The TSA is behind the curve

This will come as no surprise:

The Homeland Security Department is banning all liquids from carry-on luggage for nonstop flights from the U.S. to Russia. The ban comes after the department warned airlines that terrorists might try to smuggle explosives on board hidden in toothpaste tubes. The warning said terrorist might try to assemble explosive device in flight or upon arrival at the Olympics. (

There is very little that I hear coming out of the Department of Homeland (In)security anymore that leaves me dumbstruck, but this was one of them.  The first thing that went through my mind was who is running the Game Theory office at the TSA/DHI, and have they ever seen a James Bond movie? Plastic explosives in a toothpaste tube is de rigueur in spy craft. Open any kids book on espionage and there it is.  So for the TSA to now, thirteen odd years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, ban liquids again is pretty stunning.

And then I am taken back to the Confessions of a TSA agent that appeared only a couple of weeks ago in Politico. The United States Government (in other words, you and me) are spending $150,000 per machine for full-body scanners, that do not work, and even if they did, there is a high likelihood that no one is watching the monitor anyway. And as been discussed numerous times, the x-ray machines, both above and below the security screening area cannot tell the difference between peanut butter and C-4, or chocolate powder and explosives.

So why, exactly is the TSA banning liquids on flights to Russia?  Because if no one complains about them banning liquids in this test scenario, they will be able to ban them in general, except for those of you silly enough to shell out $80 (or more) for their Pre-Check program, where the agency will, with your permission to boot, know more about you than anyone else.  All because they cannot procure, use, or understand the equipment that we are already paying too much for.



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.