Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dispatch From Packerland

My work in the Salt Handlers Inspection Team has brought me 500 miles north to Green Bay, Wisconsin. And seemingly a few weeks back in time. Back home in Misery, Spring has sprung. Butch, the groundskeeper on the estate, has already been mustering working parties left and right. When I escaped had to leave, the pool was open and the garden was tilled and fenced and ready for planting. And my back was barking.

Here, it is still early Spring. Some of the trees are still almost bare, and many more have the pale yellow-green color of new leaves. I wanted to ride the scoot up here, but got spooked by weather forecasts calling for temps in the 50s and rain. And it looks like the forecasts were correct. This has been the view from my hotel room for most of my stay here.

Cold. Gray. Drizzle. I wouldn’t have wanted to get out and explore the beautiful country around here anyway. It’s mostly been too wet and/or muddy to play disc golf also. Luckily there is a refuge from the weather and the boredom within walking distance of my hotel.

Ned Kelly’s Pub is warm and dry and has 100 craft beers on tap. And free peanuts. It’s not as much fun as motorcycling along the bay would have been, but it sure beats running a shovel back home.

Umm, Wow…

I knew my prognostication skills were limited, but it looks like all the professional pollsters got this one wrong too.

President Donald Trump.

Fuck.

I feel like I’m being punked. The election results caused stock markets all over the world to tumble. I’m afraid to even look at the beating my 401K just took. If the markets don’t bounce back from this, my future retirement just got pushed a few years further down the road. But losing money is nothing compared to all the other things we are probably going to lose.

I’m sure it will be interesting and entertaining to see how our new preznit explains away all the things he has promised that he can’t actually deliver. (I bet we will eventually hear him say something along the lines of “I never said I was going to build a wall.”) But there are some frightening things that he can make happen. Off the top of my head:

He has promised Obamacare would be the first thing on the chopping block. No reason to think he won’t keep that promise. So millions of people will soon be without health care.

Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives has for years been using his magical mathematics to justify destroying Social Security and Medicare, under the guise of “improving” them. I bet the bill is already written to do so. And you gotta know reality teevee preznit will sign it.

There is already an opening on the Supreme Court, and likely to be others during the next 4 years. We are about two god-botherers away from abortion and gay marriage and no telling what else becoming illegal.

Hunker down and hang on, Amurka. A lot of damage can be done in a very short time. This country may be unrecognizable in a few years.

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

The missuz and I are a couple of old hippies, and until a few months ago, we had spent most of the last 30 years sleeping in a waterbed. But my seemingly chronic back problems have put an end to that. We got a new bed. It is a Saatva. It wasn’t cheap, but holy crap has it changed my life.

I’m sleeping like I haven’t slept in years. For at least a decade, my 2AM piss call has meant the end of sleep for that night, but now I get back in bed and fall back asleep almost immediately. It’s truly amazing.

Three or four times a night, I’m waking up from extremely vivid dreams. I can never remember the dreams themselves, but I can remember saying to myself “Wow! That was weird.” I can even remember telling myself to try to remember the dream, but it just won’t happen. Nonetheless, the fact that I notice I’m dreaming now means I wasn’t dreaming before. It means I am cycling in and out of REM and NREM sleep like normal people do!

I’m waking each morning feeling rested and I have more energy throughout the day. (Mental energy, that is, I’m still old and lazy physically.) It may just be wishful thinking, but my mind seems sharper. In conversations, my vocabulary seems more readily available, and I find myself grasping for the word I want less often.

And I’m better looking now too. Gonna miss crawling into that warm waterbed on cold winter nights, though.

 

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.

Lighten Up, Francis

When I heard Pope Francis was coming to the United States for my birthday next month, I felt obligated to complete an assignment I had given myself. I got pretty bogged down in a couple of places, especially Chapter 2: The Gospel Of Creation, but I persevered and I have finally finished reading the encyclical I blogged briefly about a few weeks ago.

I said then that I was impressed by this Pope, and a more thorough reading of his work has not changed my opinion. Talk about an interesting man to have a beer and a conversation with! I read somewhere on the intertoobz that he has an advanced degree in Chemistry, but his Wikipedia page only mentions a chemical technicians diploma and work experience. Regardless, he clearly understands and appreciates science and technology. He also has a keen eye for the problems our technological advancements have brought us.

In fact, it is his ability to lay out these problems in such an understandable manner that makes reading his encyclical such a daunting task. I set out with the intent of reading the encyclical and then giving a comprehensive review. To that end, I started jotting down notes and paragraph numbers on a 3 x 5 sticky pad. That’s where I ran into a problem; when I was done, I had 12 pages of notes. I ain’t trying to write no term paper here.

I was originally going to blockquote all the best parts, but if I did that, my blog post would end up being as long as the encyclical itself. Instead I will just snag a few of my favorite bits and recommend you read the whole thing. It really is worth your time. It’s chock full of simple, unassailable truths. Like this bit:

The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”. When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears.

His pleas for the common good are what touches me about his message. (We liberals call it social justice, but, as the kids say, wevs.) The Pope don’t want to hear no Libertarian bullshit either.

The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces. Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.

The multitude of economic, social and political problems the Pope touches upon include the following: rampant consumerism bereft of social or ecological awareness, throwaway culture, resource depletion, wealth distribution (lack of), deification of the free market, anthropocentrism, corruption, unemployment and other human costs of industrialization, economies of scale, lack of public transportation, pollution, quality of life, intergenerational justice, fossil fuels, internationalization of environmental costs, short term growth to our collective long term detriment, corruption of our political system(s) by the financial industry, and lack of honesty in scientific and political discussion (no, really).

As depressing as that list is, it is far from complete. If I could have that beer with the Pope, I would forcefully assert that a lot of those problems could be alleviated, though not solved, if there were fewer people on our planet, but until the Catholic church gets past its aversion to birth control, it will always be contributing to the problems he wants to solve. Alas, his solutions have even less chance than mine.

That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.

{snippage}

Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.

Basically, the Pope is calling for a world not run by plutocrats, while here in Amurka, Donald Trump leads all polls for the Republican Presidential nomination. Sigh. Good luck with that, Frannie.                                                     

Jade Hmm 15

Given my much better but still healing franken-fingers, I wasn’t expecting to get called up for active duty until this year’s War on Christmas, but due to multiple leaks of classified information, our freedom fighters lost the element of surprise, and instead faced a heightened state of alert on the ground in and around our targeted objective. Rather than scrub the mission, our commander-in-chief decided to attack in plain sight, calling up all able-bodied forces.

I did not accompany the ground troops on the trek across the hot desert. My injury limited my participation to logistics and support duties at an abandoned Wal-Mart one of our forward operating bases, but I can state with pride that we were greeted as liberators by the natives — those who noticed anyway.

It may be decades before the true and full story of this conflict can be told. All I can say for now is Mission Accomplished! Though there are still some mopping-up actions occurring in the outlying provinces against pockets of dead-enders, major ground operations have ceased. Texas is now part of Amurka. (Though, for the life of me, I don’t know why we wanted it.)

Personality What?

Surfing the ‘toobz the other day, and found this site. You can take a free test and get pigeonholed into one of 16 different personality types. I thought, “What the heck, I don’t believe in astrology either, but I sometimes read my horoscope. So I took the test.

It turns out I am an ISTJ, from the “Sentinel” group. The site says ISTJs have the “defining characteristics of integrity, practical logic and tireless dedication to duty…” I gotta say, that really does sound like me. But it wasn’t until I read the list of famous ISTJs that I was convinced. George Washington and Natalie Portman. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had people tell me I remind them of those two. It seems I am equal parts wooden-toothed founding father and tiny Jewish hottie. It’s uncanny!

Office Update Number Eleventeen

Here’s the latest photo. So fresh it is practically live-action.

DSC01465

Hey look! My books are out of exile. They’ve been in boxes for 15-20 years. Over the weekend, the mistress or the estate took her OCD out for a spin, first alphabetizing by author, then rearranging based on some pretty complicated algorithms. Long story short, Louis L’Amour got his own shelf, as did Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time series. I can live with that.

I’m working on the drawers now. Got some nice stainless steel handles that I think are going to be — as the kids say — the bomb.

Sick Day

I’m feeling under the (cold, rainy) weather today, couldn’t make it in to work. I did manage to get out and vote in the mid-term election. All the pundits are predicting the Republicans will take control of the Senate, thereby rendering moot the last two years of Michelle’s husband’s presidency. As if anyone would notice.

I hope the pundits are wrong. Not so much because I would like to see our government remain somewhat functional for the next two years — though I would — but mostly because I want to see the talking heads eat crow. I grow so weary of their endless prattle.

As far as control of the Senate goes, we here in Misery will have no say in today’s results. Neither of our Senate seats is up for election. I was pleasantly surprised to see my voting location pretty busy this morning. If that holds all day, turnout will be pretty good for a non-presidential election year. I’m a big believer in the idea that maximum participation produces maximum democracy.

Of course, ideally, that participation would apply to the candidates as well. Here in my little corner of a red city in a red county in a red state… not so much. Of the 19 federal, state and local races on my ballot, only 5 even had a Democratic candidate. I’ve grown somewhat used to a lack of alternatives here, but this is the worst I have seen. Voter turnout is meaningless in the face of candidate (or party?) apathy.

And it’s not like the few Democrats we have around here are hippie liberals. They are more like what the Republicans used to be before they went insane over fetuses and fags.

On Religion

When I became an atheist, almost 40 years ago now, my young mind was teeming with the possibilities of science and research and evidence-based thought. I felt sure that my own awakening was something that could — and would — happen to everyone eventually. All they needed was a little nudge of reason. By the time I reached adulthood, having witnessed the sheer power of religious thought, my optimism had faded considerably. I had learned one of my first, and most important, life lessons. You cannot reason someone out of a position they did not arrive at through reason. If you could, there wouldn’t be any religious people.

But, even having learned that lesson, for decades I still carried around with me the notion that religion was something mankind would eventually get over, or grow out of. I don’t know when I stopped believing that would happen. It’s fairly recent, perhaps coinciding with my embarkation on the roller coaster ride that is middle-aged depression. (Or perhaps I am confusing causation and correlation.) Regardless, I now suspect religion is our fundamental, fatal flaw.

As someone on the intertoobz once said, the person who invented the water heater did more for mankind than all of the theologians who ever lived. Secular science and ingenuity have brought civilization to where we are today, dragging religion kicking and screaming and sabotaging along the way. We have made great strides, won many battles, but it is a seemingly endless war, one that we may in fact be losing.

After thousands of years, theologians have never managed to settle a single argument, yet religion remains mankind’s preferred antidote to the fears and futilities of everyday life. It is because churches sell the dream, the illusion of control, the happy ending. Follow the rules of some ancient sacred text and live forever in paradise. We can’t get past religion because we can’t get past our love for ourselves, the idea that man is special, and therefore deserving of eternal life.

But it is just a dream. You and I and every other living thing will die. Cease to exist. Death defines life by revealing it’s cost. The price of life is death and the price of consciousness is awareness of that death. An awareness that 90% of the world’s population just can’t face. They want the happy ending so bad they will ignore the contradictions of reality, as if they can will their god into existence. I believe it is this inner conflict that generates the anger, the outright hate, that spews from religious people when their beliefs are challenged. It is an internal flight from the uncertainty of life for the absolutes found only in fantasy.

Mutually exclusive religions clash violently because, logically speaking, in order for one of those religions to be true, the other must be complete bullshit. It is a recipe for eternal conflict. There can be no solution, no compromise, no peace because to lose is to render your invisible cloud daddy irrelevant. Victory is the ultimate confirmation of bias. The defeated religion becomes a “mythology” and the victorious god gets stronger. I watch the world fight over something that doesn’t even exist and I despair.

Although I now know I will never see it, I still often wonder what our world would be like without religion. Would we take all the excess human energy that gets channeled into divisiveness and false hope, and put it into something constructive? Would we take control of our destiny,  and build a society that doesn’t thrive on conflict? Or would we just manufacture other reasons to hate each other?