Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Internet Privacy Is An Oxymoron

It’s not unusual — one might even say it is fairly common — for me to wander down some rabbit hole on the intertoobz and find myself in way over my head. Such was the case a few years ago when I first read about the Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange. (The name makes it sound like it’s about swingers, but it’s actually an encryption protocol.)

It gets way math-y, but what the protocol does is allow two computers to create a secure connection by first generating a shared private encryption key across a non-secure connection, and then using that key to exchange information. Here’s a very simple example: You and I want to exchange some encrypted data. In order to encrypt the data, and later decrypt it, we both need to have the same key. But we are on different sides of the world, and don’t actually know each other. In order to create the key, we first agree on a “public” number, let’s say we pick the numeral 11. Next, we both choose a “private” number, let’s say I pick 5 and you choose 7. I multiply our public number (11) by my private number (5) for a total of 55, and I send that to you. You multiply our public number (11) by your private number (7) producing 77, and you send that to me. Now we both multiply what the other sent by our respective private numbers. I multiply 77 times 5, you multiply 55 times 7, and we both end up with our secret key of 385 without ever having to exchange it over the non-secure connection.

Of course, since we are using computers, we don’t have to limit ourselves to simple multiplication. We can use logarithmic algorithms and really large prime numbers, making our key impossible to break for anyone without a supercomputer and a whole lot of time and money to waste. Sure, given enough time, any code can be cracked, but why would anyone put so much time and effort into breaking one key when the protocol generates a new key for every transaction, right? Right? Not so much.

For the nerds in the audience, here’s what’s wrong: If a client and server are speaking Diffie-Hellman, they first need to agree on a large prime number with a particular form. There seemed to be no reason why everyone couldn’t just use the same prime, and, in fact, many applications tend to use standardized or hard-coded primes. But there was a very important detail that got lost in translation between the mathematicians and the practitioners: an adversary can perform a single enormous computation to “crack” a particular prime, then easily break any individual connection that uses that prime.

Oopsie. Overconfidence and a dash of laziness will burn you every time. But what evil empire would do such a dastardly thing? Say it with me. U-S-A! U-S-A!

There have been rumors for years that the NSA can decrypt a significant fraction of encrypted Internet traffic. In 2012, James Bamford published an article quoting anonymous former NSA officials stating that the agency had achieved a “computing breakthrough” that gave them “the ability to crack current public encryption.” The Snowden documents also hint at some extraordinary capabilities: they show that NSA has built extensive infrastructure to intercept and decrypt VPN traffic and suggest that the agency can decrypt at least some HTTPS and SSH connections on demand.

That’s right. Your government can decrypt HTTPS. Not only did you give your credit card number to that shady website in Thailand, the NSA now knows your tastes in porn. If that doesn’t scare you, consider this: If our government can do it, you can bet your ass China and Russia are doing it too, or will be soon enough.

Dear Diary

A couple of days ago, Anne Laurie over at Balloon Juice highlighted this New Yorker article by Maria Konnikova. It’s mostly about Twitter which, honestly, I still just don’t get, but like Anne, I was intrigued by the final paragraph.

And, Pennebaker pointed out, writing on social media may have therapeutic value, regardless of its predictive value for experimenters. For decades, Pennebaker’s studies have shown that when people keep a journal they tend to fare better emotionally, recover more quickly from negative experiences, and achieve more academically and professionally. Other recent work suggests that social media provides the same benefits, despite the fact that, unlike a journal, it’s inherently public. A 2013 study found that bloggers received the same therapeutic boosts as people who keep regular diaries; what’s more, the highest benefits came from writing entries that were open to comment, which were actually more beneficial than private journal entries. Researchers want to use social media to learn about you. But by writing in a public space you may also be learning about —and helping—yourself.

According to my spamulator statistics, spam comments are still outnumbering legitimate comments by about 80 to 1, so I don’t know if the part about entries being public and open to comment fully applies here, but the whole blogging as therapy thing makes perfect sense to me. My own anecdotal evidence certainly supports the idea. I always feel better after blogging. There’s a sense of accomplishment combined with the cleansing feeling of getting something off my mind.

Of course, that begs the question of why I don’t blog more often. Well. It’s still work. And I’m still lazy.

Office/Time

This year really seems to have gotten away from me. Summer seemingly passed in the blink of an eye, and now Fall is attempting to follow suit. Yesterday I flipped over to the last page of my Bob’s Transmission nudie calendar. Miss December. Oh my. McDonalds is already serving up their annual McRib artery cloggers. (This year Hardees countered with a bologna and Velveeta breakfast biscuit. I haven’t tried one because… what if I like it?)

In one of my earlier posts about my office project, I wrote that I was hoping to be finished by Thanksgiving. Welp… Thanksgiving has come and gone. Even the best of the leftovers have been consumed. And the office is far from complete. Here is this morning’s photo.

DSC01468

As you can see, progress has slowed now that the big pieces are done. The smaller stuff is much more tedious and requires a higher skill level. The drawers went in last week. I just finished and installed the raised panel doors yesterday. I still need to put trim around the bottom, crown moulding at the top, and cover the wall above the desk top. For that, I have planned a false wall in the corner to hide all the wires and such, a walnut framed cork board and a post office thingie with mail slots and a couple of small drawers. Also, there will eventually be some under cabinet lighting of some sort. My new hope-to-finish-by date is Christmas, but I have a feeling this thing is not going to be completed in 2014.

Neglecting The Blog Again

Just haven’t been feeling it lately. A combination of the busy-ness of real life and my untreated dysthymia, I guess. Things are looking up though. Recent events have led me to believe that this winter will, in fact, end.

I caught a few minutes each of a couple of the Sunday news shows this morning. The latest Republican talking point/outrage is all about how our preznit is looking weak by failing to get his war on over Russia’s adventures in Ukraine. I’m still waiting for some enterprising reporter to ask the question John Boehner always asks when the preznit wants do pretty much anything. “How you gonna pay for it?” But, then again, I probably don’t really want to hear the answer. I’m sure it would involve funding cuts to social programs and tax cuts for the “job creators.” Sigh.

On one of the shows, I got to hear Rick Santorum — the absolute smarmiest of the smarmy, right-wing assholes — contort logic reality to the point I swear I heard a squeaking, cracking sound. It went something like this:

1) Russia is doing bad things in Ukraine.

2) Europe uses a lot of Russian natural gas.

3) Michelle’s husband’s is at fault because he needs to approve construction of terminals to allow U.S. energy companies to export U.S. natural gas to Europe.

4) Profit

Step 4 is, of course, the same for any and all Republican arguments. It is their Prime Directive. Again, no one asked the obvious questions. “Mr. Santorum, wasn’t the whole point of the fracking boom — turning these companies loose all over the country to pump out the ground water, add various toxic chemicals to it, and pump it back into the earth thereby forcing out the natural gas, but poisoning the remaining ground water — wasn’t all that so we could achieve energy independence? So why would we now want to build export terminals?”

Won’t someone please tell this loser he is never going to be preznit, no matter how much he whines about it?  

 

Polar Vortex Blows

The weather here in Misery has been up and down like a yo-yo lately. It was 60 degrees here yesterday afternoon; it is 11 right now and not expected to make 20 for a high today. The rapid changes aren’t helping me shed my cold/cough. It’s lingering.

We’re not even halfway through, and this is already turning into one of the worst winters in recent memory around here. I haven’t been able to get out on my fancy motorcycle much at all. Every time the temps drop quickly like they did last night, there is an accompanying wintry mix precipitation, so even when we have a freakishly warm day like yesterday, the roads are still covered in salt and cinders from the last cycle. It’s depressing.

Not to mention that all winter, every time the temps go sub-zero, I have had to watch and listen to the mouth-breathers I work with once again deduce that global warming must be a hoax because we still have winter. A couple of times, back around the new year, I pointed out that Australia was experiencing the highest temperatures ever recorded there. Unsurprisingly, this information did not affect my co-workers conclusions. It’s maddening.

Frailty

I’ve been too sick to blog. For what must be the 4th or 5th winter in a row, I’ve caught a cold that has settled into my lungs and I just can’t shake it. I cough and cough and cough until I’m retching up stomach acid and clenched up so tightly that the occasional mid-cough fart actually hurts. My abs are sore, my throat is blistered and my anus is wary.

I think, if I’m lucky enough to live into old age, this will be how I die. Either I will cough until something pops in my head, or I will be too old and weak to cough and my lungs will fill up with fluid. My old grandma used to pronounce it pee-new-moany.

So I’ve got that to look forward to.

It’s The Humidity

I bookmarked this map over a month ago, thinking it might be post-worthy, and then forgot about it. It’s titled simply: What America will look like once global warming melts the polar ice caps. The fact that there is no “if” in that title makes me sad.

Science — and the rest of the world — has recognized the consequences of global warming due to human industry and population growth, and repeatedly called for action to reduce, if not reverse, the effects. But here in Amurka, as long as energy industry lobbyists and the politicians they purchase exist, there will be denial and manufactured controversy. And where there is controversy, there is profit. The status quo is good for business. And what’s good for business is good for Amurka, right?  

So, no “if” in the title of that map. I know it won’t happen in my lifetime, but it is going to happen. Some of the coolest places I have ever been are going to cease to exist. San Francisco, Louisiana, the Florida Keys, the entire East coast.

It’s tough to look at that map and try to see a bright side. I guess, since the Bay of Louisiana will stretch well into Arkansas, it will be a lot easier to get seafood here in Misery. Of course, by then there may not be anything left in the oceans but jellyfish. Sigh…

Sodium Chloride Blues

Winter has come to Misery a few weeks early. I believe “shitty” is the accepted meteorological term for our current weather situation. We’ve already had several days of sub-freezing temperatures and wintry mix precipitation, with at least a few more days to come. Not much accumulation in my neck of the woods yet — just enough to create that abrasive, corrosive salt slurry that mists onto your windshield and dries instantly, leaving a haze that forces you to use almost as much windshield washer fluid as gasoline.

That salt bothers me more than the cold. I can almost feel it working its way into every nook and cranny on my vehicles, accelerating corrosion, depreciating their value, shortening their lifespan… ruining them.

Even if I want to brave the cold for a bit, I can’t bring myself to take my fancy motorcycle out when that stuff is on the road. It goes on the battery tender until we get a rain. And so begin the dark days of winter.

 

 

Get Off Of My Lawn

I try not to watch cable news, so I don’t know how much time was devoted to this story last week. I’m guessing not much, since the Republicans are still throwing their temper tantrum and threatening to destroy our economy if they don’t get their way.

But this really is good news. Scientists have developed a compound that completely halts the degeneration of brain tissue in mice.

The discovery of the first chemical to prevent the death of brain tissue in a neurodegenerative disease has been hailed as the “turning point” in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m sure it will be a decade or more before they can develop and begin testing anything for humans, but this will be huge. They will concentrate on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s at first, but mark my words, there will come a time when we will all be taking something like this. It will be part of your daily multivitamin.

It’s probably too late for a us middle-aged people to benefit from this discovery, but hopefully our kids won’t have to feel their mind slip away. Truly, one of the most saddening moments in life is the personal discovery that the wisdom that comes with age is accompanied by a gradual, continuous loss of basic cognitive abilities.

When I was a younger man, I had the thoroughly unpleasant experience of watching my grandmother succumb to dementia. I think about her as I get older and have more and more of those rat-in-a-maze moments when I walk from one room into another and forget why I did so. I wonder if that is a precursor to Alzheimer’s sufferers tendency to wander away? I wonder if they are going somewhere… or some when?

There is an old joke that goes, “Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I think I miss my mind the most.” At some point, that ceases to be a joke, and becomes more a wistful observation. I understand why the cranky old man is cranky.