Thursday, November 30, 2017

Going Home - A Brigid Guest Post

One thing I made sure was working properly on my last visit out West was Dad's chair that lifts him up to the standing position, then, he can lean into it and gently have it sit him back down (and I have to say the DeBeers Diamond  "three months salary" marketing staff have nothing on the folks that sell furniture for older folks).

He loves it, one more thing to help him stay in his home. He recovered from his stroke a few years back better than anyone thought, but he now has a hard time standing and sitting without a little help.  Every morning, he gets up and gets settled in it and reads the daily message from "Our Daily Bread" and then the Bible.  That's something he's done every day since retirement after his morning work out (Dad was a Golden Glove Boxer and still has a very strict exercise regiment that included swimming and Nautilus at the YMCA with my Step-Mom well into their late 80's.  Then it's time to get dressed and get about enjoying the day. I provide a full-time home health nurse (do not ask what that costs) so he can stay in the home he's outlived two kids and two wives in.  They make sure laundry and housework are done, prepare a hot meal every day, and play board and card games with him or take him for a drive.  Myself, his oldest grandaughter and my cousin have invited him to live with us but he wants to die in this house he's had for 60 years.

Actually, I checked the chair out when he was sleeping in one day, it's quite comfortable and seems to be built better than some of my expensive yuppie furniture.

But dang, I was hoping for an auto-launch feature that would get me airborne. 

Initiate Launch Sequence!  (that's it??)
The family room, where the chair is housed, has barely changed since I was in sixth grade.  My parents built it onto the house over what was most of our huge cement patio.  We took a vote as a family one year when I was in grade school. Vacation to Hawaii with the kids (the parents had already gone on their 25th anniversary alone) or add on a family room?  The kids decided it.  Family room!  We can play!  We can make noise.  We can spill stuff!  We can take the TV set completely apart with tools while they're at the grocery store (oh, dang, busted)

It has the previous living room carpeting down over the original harvest gold linoleum now and the drapes have been updated.  But much is unchanged. The 1970's fixtures for the fluorescent lights that Dad crafted by hand. Still there. That Mexican hat on the Wall?  A VERY embarrassing River dance gone South episode from some tap recital of mine.  The barre built into the wall where I did my ballet warm-ups was removed and replaced with paneling.  It was there under the kitchen window that Mom once took out with a golf ball from the backyard when that was the back window to the house. Fore! (hey, I didn't know Mom knew that other word!)

On the walls are funny tin signs and Montana art.  On another wall are numerous awards and mementos from the community and  Uncle Sam, every single member of our family - Mom, Dad, brothers, sister, serving in Defense, Local or Federal Law Enforcement or the Armed Forces, with the Air Force and Navy battling it out for the best space. And the picture of Jesus, which has witnessed slumber parties, ping pong games (we'd set the table up inside in the winter) Loony Tunes, and probably cursing during that 1983 Minnesota-Nebraska college game.

The couch is new, but the quilt is one my Mom crocheted in the 70's.  There is another one, but it sits in my linen closet at the Range, where I can occasionally hold it, smell the scent of Chanel No. 5 that only exists in my memory.  It's where I can remember her hands working away on it while we kids watched westerns on TV and tried to outshoot Marshall Dillon with our little cap guns under the watchful eye of our Lord.
We've made just a few changes in the house.  The main bathroom, tub, and shower were outfitted with handles and bars and a shower chair for ease of bathing. The waterbed was replaced with a quality regular mattress that makes it easier for him to get out of bed, but with a heated mattress pad so it's warm through the night.

The small bath by the family room, though, was in dire need of help.  It was always the "utility" bathroom, old faded paint, bare window, no storage at all, and small and hard to get around in as there was nothing for him to hold onto if his balance or strength waned.  But it's the one he uses the most.

Before he died, Big Bro took care of the construction and I took care of the paint and the decorating.
Still, with the full-time home nursing aide and lawn service that comes weekly I am happy he can stay in his home. He originally said he wanted to move in with me when my Step-Mom was diagnosed with cancer and I bought an old money pit of a big house on some property with a view of a small lake, a single story, no steps, "mother in law set up" outside of town, the original "Range." I hoped he'd be happy there. But she went into remission, with great thanksgiving, but was then diagnosed with Alzhemers.

He cared for her in his home through that, until her death, years more than we expected, but not easy years for him.  But as she was his cross, she was also his salvation and he refused to put her in a nursing home, even when she acted out in anger against her children, not recognizing her own life, but somehow, always recognizing him.

But after she was gone, he changed his mind. His Mom was from Indy, and he enjoyed it there, but he didn't want to leave where he's lived all these years.  He wanted to stay where his memories are, good or bad, in his own church, in that old house.  I  understood and sold the place I had bought, at a loss, but one I gladly bore.

This is the home in which his memories reside, in every furnishing that's 30, 40, 60 years old.  There have been other houses, for summer vacations and the old family home in Montana, but this modest little place was always the center of the family.  Outside, is the bed of my Mom's rose garden, replanted with other flowers now, yet still containing for him, those pink and red and coral buds and blossoms, long after they've fallen to dust, no more dead to him than the hands that tended them, the drops of blood they sometimes drew.
In that family room, he sits in his recliner and watches his favorite sports, while around him are the artifacts of loves never lost, triumphs and defeats, as well as the living laughter of what little family remains and the friends he holds dear. Few of them are related to him by blood, but rather by the strongest bond - love.

My room at home is virtually unchanged and that was not by my request, but his will. Photos of family and family and extended family all around.  The rainbow I painted on my walls in junior high. Dad said I could, but I had to use leftover paint which is why my rainbow is every shade of totally tacky 1970's paint we had.  (yes, we had rooms painted those colors!)
There is no view. There used to be a view of beautiful mountains, but they are hidden from where we sit by tall, big box marts. He refused to sell when they literally bought up several blocks, RE-zoned residential and commercial, so we look out the windows to the vast walls of a commercial business, their parking lot lights illuminating the place like Attica Prison during a break. Curtains keep the light out at night, sort of.  Dad realizes the value of the home just went to zip, but he doesn't care. It's his home,  it's our home.  It's where we lived, and it's where he will pass, hopefully, and quietly in his favorite chair, his Bible open and a can of cold beer waiting for when the game is called.

He knows his days are short, we all do. But he's very happy, lousy view and all. The pastor comes and gives him communion regularly.  His neighbors have him over for meals and their children come and play board and card games with him.   I fly out as often as I can, becoming an expert on the cheap air-fares (how many stops?)  My step brother and his wife drive three hours to take him to lunch. My cousin Liz drives up from California several times a year (her partner's Moms live an hour from Dad).  He has friends, good ones, but new ones, as all of his original group has passed on. He still works out each day, including an exercise bike and he eats very well with a hot meal daily from the sweet ladies that are his home health aides and the snacks and small meals I leave for him in little freezer containers between visits.
Around the house are small sayings, quotes that mean things to him, verses from the Bible.  "This is the Day the Lord hath Made, Let us Rejoice and Be Glad in It" is one that always makes me think of him. Each day is a gift from the Lord, he says, and I can't disagree.

I can't say what the future will bring, but one thing my brother and I both agreed on before he left us. Dad has outlived two beloved wives and two children (he and Mom lost a baby when they were first married) and I'm going to fight to make sure he does not experience any more loss of what he holds dear.
 - Brigid

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bon Jovi - Run Run Rudolph

The problem facing AI is the same as the problem facing security

There are people who actively try to fool the system.  Consider facial recognition.  Even babies are very good at this, so it's been a highly visible research area for AI for decades.  The facial recognition systems have gotten pretty good, and so AI researchers get a well-deserved pat on the back.

Or do they?
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics have defeated facial recognition on big social media platforms – by removing faces from photos and replacing them with automatically-painted replicas. 
As the team of six researchers explained in their arXiv paper this month, people who want to stay private often blur their photos, not knowing that this is “surprisingly ineffective against state-of-the-art person recognisers.”

AI can beat blurring, but not the inpainting adversarial model. 
The researchers went a step further by constructing a realistic “fake face” that replaced the original image, but was perturbed enough to beat the AI while still looking “right” to a friend perusing the image.
The problem facing (so to speak) the AI researchers is that it's not just good enough to be accurate in regular use, you have to be accurate even when someone is trying to subvert your algorithms.  It's the same problem that Internet Security faces - the QA teams test for "correct" feature/functionality, but then the Bad Guys look for bugs that don't effect feature operation but which do effect security.

I'm not at all optimistic that AI will win this one.

Alert readers will notice that to really fool big Social Media, there are some very significant OPSEC issues that you would have to take.  As with most things, OPSEC is security's Achilles' Heel.  However, as more and more people get fed up with Social Media spying, expect more ways to automate things like this - for example, a photo archive tool that modifies all faces to defeat facial recognition.

Smells like an arms race to me.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Georg Frederick Handel - Hallelujah Chorus in D Major (from The Messiah)

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
- Revelation 11:15  
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
- Revelation 19:6

The biggest mistake that Classical Music (as commonly understood) can make is to divorce itself from its audience.  This divorce explains almost all of why modern Classical Music is such a wasteland of ugliness.  In earlier days, Classical composers were Rock Stars, and the audience treated them as such.  That flame, while flickering, is still burning and even showing signs of roaring back.  Handel's "Messiah" shows that.

Image via Wikipedia
It's a myth that everyone stands for the Hallelujah Chorus because the King was so overwhelmed when he heard it that he lept to his feet.  The rest of the audience of course would have scrambled to theirs as well - nobody sat while the King stood, Back In The Day.  It seems that the story isn't true but I must say that the hair on the back of my neck stood up when the audience rose en masse the first time I performed this.  They also sang along to us, claiming this small portion of Handel's master work as theirs.

That continues to this day with the wonderful new tradition of Classical Music "Flash Mobs".  Essentially, this is music swooping down on people who, unsuspecting, are simply living out an ordinary day of their lives.  The People always rise to this occasion, joining with delight the sudden and seemingly random outbreak of culture.  Here's one example, from a shopping mall in Philadelphia, accompanied by the world's largest pipe organ:

Sure, the camera work is bad (it's mostly caught from within the audience), and the sound quality is amateurish (same problem).  Watch the people - caught without practice, or even a script, they join in the singing.  They take a stuffy Symphony Hall performance and make it their own.  They understand - everyone involved understands - that this is our culture.  The result is a performance done for the joy of the doing by both professionals and audience.  I cannot put into words how beautiful I see these social acts of culture.

And although I have not sung this for twenty years, to this day I could do a creditable job on the baritone part from memory - and could do it justice if I had not gotten rid of the script in the move from Camp Borepatch.

This is Classical Music, as it was understood back in the days when composers were Rock Stars.  And quite frankly, some composers - notably Handel - are still rock stars.  Just watch the people there when the organ kicks off and the chorus unloads the first line.  The audience entirely gets what's going on and joins in, with delight.

This is a meditation on the upcoming holiday.  The Lord Messiah was not sent for a small elite, he was sent for everyone, even shopping mall patrons.  I post a lot of Christmas music during the season, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.  The music of this coming holiday is one that everyone is invited to join in.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Suzy Bogguss - Two Step 'Round The Christmas Tree

It's past Thanksgiving, which means it's the Christmas season.  This is a song from the days when Country music was actually - you know - Country music.  Suzy Bogguss had a string of hits in the 1990s, back when Nashville wasn't ground zero of pop music.  This would actually be a pretty good song to two step to.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Tom Lehrer - A Christmas Carol

An ode to  Black Friday.  Angels we have heard on high tell us to go out and buy ...


The Queen Of The World made a spectacular Thanksgiving feast.  She gets into Field Marshall mode when she does this sort of thing, and so I wasn't allowed into the kitchen, other for the odd fetch and carry.  She even decorated the top of the mincemeat pie with pieces of dough representing a grape vine.

The roast bird, stuffing, sweet potatoes and all the fixings were delicious, but coma-inducing.  Blogging will resume when the tryptophan wears off.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A real life WKRP In Cincinnati turkey drop

Rick emails to point out the annual Yellville, Arkansas Turkey Trot festival.  During the festival, they drop live turkeys out of an airplane.  Really.

[blink] [blink] [blink]

As you'd imagine, this is pretty controversial.  Now I can understand a bunch of flyover country folks flipping the bird to granola-eating PETA city folk who like to look down on them.  I really do.  But part of me thinks "Arkansas, man".

But it seems that turkeys actually can fly, but badly.

Thank you, Comcast

I'm glad that I have enough troubleshooting skills that when the Comcast tech support idiot runs through 20 minutes of nonsense I can figure out how to fix it by myself.  And no, I don't want a maybe we'll charge you and maybe we won't appointment, thanks very much.  And thanks for refusing to bump me up to Tier 2 when I asked.


But The Queen Of The World has the parade on, so go team me!

But Comcast "support" can die in a crotch fire.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Your holiday cybersecurity guide for family

Good article by Robert Graham: what to tell your family who use you as tech support about the key things they should to to keep secure.

Simple, to the point, and probably doable for most people.

On Thanks - A Brigid Guest Post

I'm getting things ready for tomorrow.  Just a fairly simple meal with my husband as after both of us being gone a good part of the month we didn't wish to travel.  My husband will likely get the SUV serviced for a trip to southern Illinois to visit his parents next weekend but this weekend we're staying home and safe. I just saw my Dad a couple of weeks ago, so I won't be flying out there for Thanksgiving with him and he has an invite to join a family nearby.

It wouldn't be the same with both Mom and my brother gone.  But thinking of that got me to smile with a memory from a Thanksgiving long ago. Mom had read somewhere that cooking the turkey in a bag would render the turkey very juicy. Except she missed the part about low temperature and the type of bag. So Mr. Turkey went into the oven in a Safeway paper shopping bag,  pop-out timer side down.

 As he roasted, the juice and grease pooled in the bottom of the bag. When the timer popped, "turkey's done" it popped THROUGH the bag, releasing all the hot grease onto the burner.


Big Bro calmly said "Mom, the turkey blew up!"
It was the first and only time I heard my Mom say a four-letter cuss word. Dad admonished her to leave the door closed as she turned the heat off.  He simply stood in the corner of the kitchen, muttering "Oh, the Humanity", tears rolling down his face as he was laughing so hard. We had KFC that year as the remains were removed in a bucket.

After Mom took ill, there were other events. A time at the vacation cabin where Dad cooked pancakes. I'm not sure how he did it, but you could hardly cut through them. He gave one to our wiener dog Pepper, who took it outside and buried it in the sand along the shore. Big Bro threw another one in the fire. It didn't burn.

I can picture that as if it were happening now, the splash of sunlight on cedar, the memory, of the smell of wet dog and the taste of laughter, of where people have lived and will always.
Hygge.  The word comes to mind, especially at Thanksgiving.  It's a Danish word that roughly means eating and drinking and being together with friends, a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. We don't have any such word in the English language, and life today seems to rarely accommodate such a ritual.

I can be insular, and driven. At work I take no quarter and am not intimidated by blood, death or bad hair days.. Yet at home, I am a caregiver, as my Mom was with us. Even when she was tired, she would make us homemade cookies and pastries to have after school or with our lunch. Shortening scrapped from its can, dough formed and rounded, rolled flat, and rolled up, carefully studded with fragrant spices and baked golden.
When at school, I'd open up my lunch box, and find every given day, a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, coins for milk and an ice cream and a small tinfoil packet I'd unfold with great care. Inside, the scraps of her making, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, soft and whole. I do not share. I scrape the foil clean.

Dinner at the big table wasn't just on Thanksgiving. It was every night but TV Tray in the Family Room Night. But on those dinners around the big table, I can't recall so much of what we talked about or who said what, but I do remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate the exact moments through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of those who love one another.

Dad is clearing stuff out of the house, as his days grow shorter.  Having just downsized and gotten rid of so much, the only things I wished from it were small; things of worth, but perhaps not value. A couple are tattered cookbooks in which are written Mom's notes of when she made something new and if we liked it. One was a folder in which Mom placed handwritten menu plans for family gatherings and holidays. Some were planned dishes, some were instructions for the meal itself. Piece after piece of small lined paper, on which her handwriting lay.
So many scraps of paper, so many meals, some dated 1962 when she and Dad were still new in the house.  It was the house she lived in the remainder of her life and to which they brought me and Big Bro home as small, scared children, to heal with them, then to belong, as family.

I hold those pieces of paper and feel the warmth, a woman preparing food for her family, for her friends, small hieroglyphs that tell me nothing but that someone loved us, scribbled messages that would not make sense to everyone but will never fail to be understood.

At that family table we learned many things.  We learned patience (I tell you young lady, you are going to sit here until you eat that squash!) We learned aerodynamics (spoon at 45 degrees, wind from the SE at two mph, PEAS, initiate launch sequence!)  We learned thanks, and not just at Thanksgiving. We learned comfort and safety.

As I went out on my own, even when I didn't have a family of my own, there was a gathering, even if I just invited over my bachelor colleagues, put together a ham and some homemade mashed potatoes and the trimmings while we listened to music and actually talked about something other than our jobs. For it was the sharing and the care that was important, not necessarily what we ate.
Hygge, it's something I learned from my Mom as I watched her growing up. Even as Dad bought her the latest appliances to ease her burden as she grew sicker, she continued to make things as her Mom and generations past had done, stirring by hand, shaping and crafting, only forming a brief and sullen armistice with the food processor when chemo was winning.
She made meals in health and she made meals in sickness, those last days where there was a look on her face as if having seen something which she knows existed even as she refused to believe in it. She'd pause, blink as if the sun was in her eyes, then go back to peeling the carrots for one of perhaps thousands of relish trays she made in her life. Then she'd set it upon that old dining room table with the captains chairs that looked like something taken off an old schooner, a table that looked out of place among all the 70's orange and yellow shag carpeting, but was as timeless as that moment.

She carried more than meals to the table, she carried us, with broken dreams and broken hearts, holding us together, even as she left us.

 "You did good Mom" I say to an empty kitchen, the curtains in the window moving with the opening of a door as if breath. Then the curtains fall still, the room quiet as if this hushed little space is isolated in space, without time or dimension, hollowed whisperings of love and safety amidst the turmoil and fury of time. There is no light in the room now, but for one small kitchen candle, the flame standing sentient over the wick as I wait for the sound of steps on the porch.

My Dad's table will not ever be graced by all of us again, but it will be the inheritance of those who remain, few of them family by blood, but all of them family by acceptance. I hope that one day, long after I am gone, a small child will sit at it and say "tell us the story about when Great Grandma Grace's turkey blew up". . . .

. . and laughter will ring out again.

Hunting and killing a raw vegan turkey

This is pretty damn funny.

Monday, November 20, 2017

How Bitcoin really works

It's funny because it's true.

Newspapers don't care about printing the truth

They care about printing a story:
Every November, the FBI releases its hate-crime statistics for the previous year. They've been doing this every year for a long time. When they do so, various news organizations grab the data and write a quick story around it.

By "story" I mean a story. Raw numbers don't interest people, so the writer instead has to wrap it in a narrative that does interest people. That's what the writer has done in the above story, leading with the fact that hate crimes have increased.

But is this increase meaningful? What do the numbers actually say?

To answer this, I went to the FBI's website, the source of this data, and grabbed the numbers for the last 20 years, and graphed them in Excel, producing the following graph:

As you can see, there is no significant rise in hate-crimes. Indeed, the latest numbers are about 20% below the average for the last two decades, despite a tiny increase in the last couple years. Statistically/scientifically, there is no change, but you'll never read that in a news article, because it's boring and readers won't pay attention. You'll only get a "news story" that weaves a narrative that interests the reader.
In this case, the narrative was "Hate crimes increase".

Really, the only thing to add to this analysis is that certain narratives are more pleasing to the progressives that populate the News Room than others.  Those pleasing narratives will get pushed to the front page, while less pleasing narratives will get "fact checked" to death.

As Mark Twain said, if you don't read the newspaper you're uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper you're misinformed.

Layers and layers of fact checkers

Polifact awards "Four Pinocchios" to Duffle Blog.

Layers on layers on layers.  You know, onions have layers.  I wonder if Polifact thinks that The Onion has layers, too.  And "Bowe Bergdahl wanders off during Court Martial" is hilarious.

Hat tip: Don Surber.

Fun fact: autocorrect wants to substitute "polecat" for "Polifact".  Heh.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving cooking pro tip

It seems that you don't even need to know how to cook.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

In Dog Beers I've Had One - A Brigid Holiday Shopping Guest Post

Grocery shopping in a snowstorm the weekend before Thanksgiving is never fun.  But with my husband being in charge of spiders, dead possums in the yard, and home repairs the grocery shopping is my weekly chore.  I HAVE learned some things, however.

500 carts in the store and I will get the one with the front wheel that pirouettes like a ballerina on crack.

I always make a list.  Sometimes I remember to bring it with me.

Always eat something before shopping.  I once went on an empty stomach and came home as the proud owner of Aisle 5.

You can go to the store for "just" milk, and spend $125.
Pork chop in homemade fig molasses with grist mill cornbread.  Forget the Kraft Dinner.

You know you need "me" time when a stroll down the detergent aisle feels like a spa day.

My husband once asked me to pick up some oil  There were like 87 different kinds.  I now know what men feel like in the tampon aisle.

If someone is standing directly in front of the item I need I will pretend to look for something else until they move.

I once lost my Mom in the store.  I was 51.  They gave me a balloon and paged her.

I do not object to telling the millennial who has 37 items in the Express Aisle "that I know all the lyrics to FROZEN and I am NOT afraid to use them".

I have, on more than one occasion of many years, turned the Betty Crocker Upside Down Cake box in the aisle - upside down.

I realize that I get excited that I can now buy the unhealthy cereal my Mom usually didn't let us have.

Someday they will say about me "she died doing what she loved, carrying 87 plastic bags of groceries from the car to the house, rather than make 2 trips.".

That being said - happy to have survived and made it home for a cold one.

And a frozen pizza - as I was tired out from all the shopping.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thoughts on Sen. Franken

The dog that hasn't barked in this situation is Donald Trump - he hasn't taken to Twitter to stir the pot.  That's interesting.  Why not?

The last week has been wall to wall media coverage about Roy Moore in Alabama.  Whether you believe Moore or his accusers, the coverage has been relentless.  It's been quite a bi-partisan display, as politicians from both parties have condemned Moore.  And now along comes the Franken accusations, which seem much more credible.  Again, ignoring whether you believe More or his accusers, Franken has admitted it - he really didn't have much choice, as there's photographic evidence.

But silence from @RealDonaldTrump.  Again: why?

Assumption #1: both parties would like to impeach Trump.  The Republicans are increasingly willing to openly oppose him, and it's clear that the GOP establishment would like to see Trump and his supporters just go away.  Some Democrats actually introduced a bill of impeachment, which seems to be "Trump is a boor".  The pile on of Roy Moore is this same desire in a minor key.

Assumption #2: I believe that the Democratic party would throw Franken under the bus in a New York minute if they thought it set the stage for an impeachment of Trump.  After all, the (Democrat) Governor of Minnesota would appoint another Democrat, so there's no change there.  And yet, there have been precisely zero calls for Franken to resign.

Again, the interesting question is why.

I believe that there's another show waiting to drop, and that shoe is the secret payments made to victims of Congressional sexual abuse - payments that it is said run to the millions of dollars.  This is bubbling just under public consciousness, with brief mentions in the media but no real attention being  given to it.  If the Democrats were to try to force Franken to resign, this might break the dam on the broader Congressional corruption issue.  Nobody on Capitol Hill wants to go here.

I believe that if Congress decides to get serious about impeaching Trump for moral turpitude, you'll see Trump's tweets push  this issue front and center - his argument will be that if he is so bad that he has to go, why don't they go?  Since Congress is about as popular as herpes, this argument might have some legs.

The whole situation is breathlessly cynical all around, so much so that Trump looks like the guy who's clean.  Pretty wild - every time I think that my assessment of Congress can't be any lower than it is, they up and say "hold my beer".

Poor security in "Connected" toys

I've been posting about this for some time, so it's good to see other folks chiming in:
A consumer group is urging major retailers to withdraw a number of “connected” or “intelligent” toys likely to be popular at Christmas, after finding security failures that it warns could put children’s safety at risk.  
Tests carried out by Which? with the German consumer group Stiftung Warentest, and other security research experts, found flaws in Bluetooth and wifi-enabled toys that could enable a stranger to talk to a child.  
The investigation found that four out of seven of the tested toys could be used to communicate with the children playing with them. Security failures were discovered in the Furby Connect, i-Que Intelligent Robot, Toy-Fi Teddy and CloudPets.
A lot of this is basic no-security-on-bluetooth, limiting the range that someone could exploit this to 100 feet or so.  But some is a lot more worrying:
With the i-Que Intelligent Robot, available from Argos and Hamleys, the investigation discovered that anyone could download the app, find an i-Que within their Bluetooth range and start using the robot’s voice by typing into a text field. The toy is made by Genesis, which also manufactures the My Friend Cayla doll, recently banned in Germany owing to security and hacking concerns. Both toys are distributed in the UK by Vivid.

The link at the top of this post is from a year ago, and talks about most of these toys.  A year later, the manufacturer has done nothing to improve the security holes - that tells you everything you need to know about whether you can trust them with your little bundle of joy.

Let me just say that the Northeast Gunbloggers know how to deal with Furbys.  Just sayin'.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hack the friendly skys

Well, this isn't good news:
At least some commercial aircraft are vulnerable to wireless hacking, a US Department of Homeland Security official has admitted. 
A plane was compromised as it sat on the tarmac at a New Jersey airport by a team of boffins from the worlds of government, industry and academia, we're told. During the hack – the details of which are classified – experts accessed systems on the Boeing 757 via radio-frequency communications. 
“We got the airplane on September 19, 2016. Two days later, I was successful in accomplishing a remote, non-cooperative, penetration,” said Robert Hickey, aviation program manager within the cyber-security division of the DHS's science and technology directorate, while speaking at the CyberSat Summit in Virginia earlier this month.
It seems that security guys have known about this problem for a while but this info hasn't gotten out to pilots until now.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Climate change: which is cheaper, adapting or preventing?

If you're wondering, you haven't been reading here very long.  It appears that the proposed spending to "prevent climate change" will cost the USA $7 Trillion more than the "damage" caused by the climate change.

Numbers are from GAO and IEA.  Warning: there's math here, although it's basic Net Present Value analysis.

Bottom line: under typical planning assumptions, it's far more costly to implement climate change programs than it is to let things run their course.

Implication: Environmentalism makes poor people poorer.  $7 Trillion could fun a lot of programs for poor people.  "Being Green" is just more Rich People's Leftism.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Condolences to Paul, Dammit

His mother passed away.

Et lux perpetua luceat eis, amen.

Apple FaceID cracked

That didn't take long:
When Apple released the iPhone X on November 3, it touched off an immediate race among hackers around the world to be the first to fool the company's futuristic new form of authentication. A week later, hackers on the actual other side of the world claim to have successfully duplicated someone's face to unlock his iPhone X—with what looks like a simpler technique than some security researchers believed possible. 
On Friday, Vietnamese security firm Bkav released a blog post and video showing that—by all appearances—they'd cracked Face ID with a composite mask of 3-D-printed plastic, silicone, makeup, and simple paper cutouts, which in combination tricked an iPhone X into unlocking. That demonstration, which has yet to be confirmed publicly by other security researchers, could poke a hole in the expensive security of the iPhone X, particularly given that the researchers say their mask cost just $150 to make.
From a security perspective, FaceID (and fingerprint recognition) is a terrible idea.  The problem is that it's used for the wrong purpose.  Both would be fine as a username replacement - after all, you are you.  But they're really, really, really bad ideas as passwords, which is how they're used.  They can't be changed if they get compromised (and believe me, that is what hackers world wide are working on because it's the Holy Grail of pwnage).  They can be used against your will, by Bad Guys or by Governments.

If you use either of these two things, you should turn them off.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Carl Nielsen - Symphony No 4, "The Inextinguishable"

Carl Nielsen is widely regarded as Denmark's greatest composer, and this is perhaps his greatest composition.  Written in 1916 at the height of the War, it is deeply influenced by that conflict.  It was unusual for a symphony in that the four movements are played without breaks - in essence, it's one long non-stop battle (in fact, it is scored attacca subito: attack suddenly).  In the final movement a pair of tympanis duel from opposite sides of the stage in a mock artillery exchange.

Outside of Denmark, Nielsen is known for compositions like this: orchestral music.  In Denmark he is much more of a national symbol, and his songs (influenced by traditional Danish folk songs) are more widely known.  During the Nazi occupation in World War II his songs were often performed as an act of resistance.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

For Dad this Veteran's Day - A Brigid Guest Post

In the Battle of Maldon, a few Englishmen have been attacked by a fierce army of Viking invaders. Although the Vikings are between two branches of the river and thus separated from launching their full strength at the Anglo-Saxon army, Beortnoth nobly allows them free passage to do battle on equal terms. Vastly outnumbered, Beortnoth and his brave men are slain until only a small, unflinching band of warriors remain:

“Byorthwold spoke; he grasped his shield; he was an old companion; he shook his ash spear; full boldly he exhorted the warriors: 'Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our leader all hewn down, the valiant man in the dust; may he lament for ever who thinks now to turn from this war-play. I am old in age; I will not hence, but I purpose to lie by the side of my lord. . ."

In these few words, a better description of heroism, of unwavering dedication and loyalty I've not read in a while. The lines “Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens" are a thousand years old, a pre Christian heroic spirit which author J.R. Tolkien, a crafter of worlds where chivalry roared, himself called "Northernness".
I look at photos from a great war, a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline that was stormed early one summer morning by more than 160,000 Allied troops, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy.  Over 9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded.  Europe was full of brave American men that day, many who died, some who lived, both on that beach and in the skies over England or Germany. One of those men was my Father.

My Dad is a peaceable men, and I would imagine that the majority of men who lived and died on that piece of ground on this day seventy years ago would have said the same thing about themselves.  They looked at battle as I do, more than the desire to pursue and kill but endurance,  the conviction and longing to endure beyond all imaginable limits of the flesh to protect and preserve.

There was a difference between aggression and self defense, a difference between being devoted to justice and being a school yard bully. It is a self-awareness and self-restraint and differs as night and day from apathy, the concept of which Christians might refer to as meekness, a trait often associated with Christ, and clearly as misunderstood.
Dad and Mom were separated for the entire War.  High school sweethearts, they weren't formally engaged but they had an understanding that on his return they would marry.  He considered marrying her before he left but he didn't wish to leave her alone, possibly with a baby.  Mom had just completed college, and was going to work to help put her two young brothers through school as well as support her mother, widowed very young.

Four years apart. In the big scheme of their lives, those years were only a blink, yet it colored everything about how they lived after that, like the war was a lens that they would forever look through. I look at all the pictures they sent to one another during that time and there are pictures of fun, and the laughter of just being 20-something years old; photos of Mom hamming it up with her friends, and photos of my Dad in his 44th Bomb Group uniform, on a rare afternoon free.

But if you can look real close, you can see the worry about their eyes, anxious nights and sleepless waiting, not for days. . or months. . . but for years. . . . . wondering if they would ever again see the bright clear eyes of the one they loved. There is no worse feeling, I can tell you that. But things were different then. There were no flights home, no leave back stateside to visit friends and family. Once Dad left on the Queen Mary to sail over, he did not return until the War had ended.
When he did come home, outwardly unharmed, unlike much of his squadron, he had changed. Changed with what he had seen and witnessed, and like most soldiers had developed his own survival ritual, his system of integrity and his concepts of what it meant to be worthy of the uniform he wore. With this, he and Mom married immediately and settled into a comfortable, steady, uneventful life that the youth of today would indeed consider dull. They didn't have a huge mortgage for a house that was too big, multiple cars, or exotic travel or trips.  They lived simply, creating a steadiness in their life, mowing the lawn, washing the Buick every Saturday, dancing in the living room to Big Band, a quiet sanctuary of quiet routine and sameness that embraced us as children when they adopted us so many years later.

As a kid, and especially as my teen years loomed, our small town life seemed rather uneventful and I wished that something big would happen. Something exciting. But it didn't. Something big had already happened to them, and only a few years back. Still vivid in their memory were B-24's limping home in pieces only to crash before their eyes; flag draped coffins of family and friends being sent home, losses beyond redemption. And then there was the waiting. There was no instant communication then, no emails or cell phones to keep in touch. Their memories were days of silence and snippets of news, of hunger and rations; survival in a nation at war, the fear greeting them each day at their meager breakfast plate as they prayed that maybe just once this month they would get a letter, some hope.
Maybe after all of that, Dad's goal was simply that nothing big happened again, nothing except safety, and the warm embrace of your family around you each night. In a world at peace because of the one big thing that you did.

One day, entering adulthood, I found their wartime letters to one another, packed in a trunk with his uniform.  It was a holiday. I read through one or two, then carefully put them back in the blue ribbon that held them, feeling as if I was spying on something so intimate, so precious, it was best left to the dark. But the emotion held within plain words that would pass any wartime censor was clear; the tenderly passionate tones, the sudden breathless pauses, and those spaces between words that opened up like white arms, reaching across an oceans water to hold the one they loved.

That night as the fireworks began, and we sat, a family absent my Mom who had passed on a few years prior, in the old wooden chairs they'd bought as newlyweds. As the rockets rained down, ones that exploded like living thunder, and the small lit ones that draped across the sky like a lei, flowerings of light floating slowly down to our safe little spot I glanced over at my Dad. As the last one, the showstopper, exploded in a blinding red and white of a thousand suns and a burst of sound that hurt the ears, I saw the tear on his rapt upturned face, his hand over his heart, as he remembered his comrades, as he remembered the beautiful girl who he had proudly fought for, there in the safe world they all made for us.
My Dad was one of the fortunate who was able to come home.  So many did not, givng their all for their country.  On this weekend, as always,  remember them -  all of them, that went before, that did not come home. They were warriors in battle; not as men of violence -  but men prepared to do battle for what they held dear.  

Those warriors taught us more than how to win a battle.  They taught us how to live not just in might and size and power, but often in the smallest places and quietest moments.  Look at the people who serve in hard times, hard areas, death a shadow on the wall, so the masses can be safe. But you don't have to be a member of the military, a protector of the weak, or a fighter of the worst nature can throw at you to embrace these concepts. Courage gives us something to strive for, something to hold up as an ideal and an understanding that throughout history there are those who have risen above the standards of the day to truly be called brave.
I look at my Dad; sleeping more now, under an attic where lay a bundle of letters that give off a whisper of old longing and forever hope, carried across the ocean to lie above the woman who wrote them. Dad grieves and give thanks, for the love that he fought for still exists, even as the bones of it have crumbled to dust, becoming one with the soil, the love remains intact, impervious, where they had lain, there in the rich earth of a brave man's heart.

The year could be 1944, it could 2017. A hand on a rough shovel, flinging the dirt with an effortless fury, the mound of soil rising of its own volition, not crafted by man but as if flung forth by the earth itself, until the grave is readied. A warrior has fallen, medals scribed on ore or heart, small things insignificant to the view, but mute with profound meaning. The earth waits but a moment. Shadows fall with the moon's curve, no sound but the labored breath of form of one who engaged without arms, this single combat. Laying a warrior to rest.  There is now but a shield to be picked up and carried on. So, man or woman, we never forget what was sacrificed for us all.
 - Brigid

The Last Platoon

This is a simply outstanding two-part program from the BBC back in 2004.  They interviewed the last surviving British veterans of the War To End War.  I cannot recommend this too highly.

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is a sacred moment.  Hearing the stories from the men themselves will help you reach across the age that separates us from the trenches.  I wonder what Grandpa would have thought of this.  He served in that war, but as an American, he was late to the party.

Rylee Preston - Soldier's Light

When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.
- Earnest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms
There is a reason that we honor veterans, and why we describe what they do for us as "sacrifice".  They and their families give up the things that we take for granted - family dinners together, a baby's first steps or words, soccer games, school recitals.  Reading to your kids at night.  Hugs.  Wiping tears away.

Today is the day that we think on these sacrifices, and on the men and women who made them.  And on their families, who sacrifice with them.  As the saying goes, all gave some and some gave all and the families share fully in this giving.

Today is the day that we remember this.  Some remember it in a more spectacular fashion than most -  Rylee Preston is one of those.  She was 15 when she wrote this song, a song that captures that sacrifice.  Her Dad is in the Army and so she knew the sacrifices all too well.  But she didn't write this for her, or her Dad.  She was inspired by how effected her Dad was at the combat death of a friend's son.  She put pen to paper and the song suddenly took on a life of its own.

It touched people in a very intimate way.  She was invited to sing it at the "Ride For The Fallen" motorcycle rally:
I was back stage,  and Skip told me she had the entire audience (Bikers, a lot of them Vet’s) in tears, and holding up cell phones recording – it was a moment I cant describe for me, because what started out as words on paper became a song, video and tribute. And to watch Rylee sing it live (very nervous her first time in front of a real audience) bring them to tears.
A bunch of black leather clad, shaved head biker dudes wearing chains and skulls - in tears.  Not so surprising, since most bikers have big hearts and love their country, and a lot served themselves and know full well the sacrifices.

And so this song seems entirely appropriate for today, Veteran's Day.  As you go about your day and think about the service and sacrifice that our Veterans have made to this Republic, remember SPC. Justin Rollins and all who served.
Heroism is latent in every human soul - However humble or unknown, they (the veterans) have renounced what are accounted pleasures and cheerfully undertaken all the self-denials - privations, toils, dangers, sufferings, sicknesses, mutilations, life-long hurts and losses, death itself - for some great good, dimly seen but dearly held.
- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Friday, November 10, 2017


Not everyone got a parade.  This weekend is still for them.

This weekend is especially for them.

The end of CNC?

Well, this is interesting:
Desktop Metal, based in Boston, USA, has opened up pre-orders for its Studio System which uses inkjet-like technology, rather than laser-based techniques, to produce precision metal parts. 
The system isn't cheap – it's $120,000 to buy outright or $4,000 a month for 36 months – but compared to other ways of producing metal parts, especially in small numbers, it could be a game-changer. Sure, there are traditional CNC machines but they still cost from thousands up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. This fat gizmo is supposed to be a challenge to that. 
The printer will be made available in mid-2018, at which point the company hopes to expand even further with a production version of the machine that offers 3D printing at 100 times the speed and a twentieth of the cost of current systems.
It may be that this doesn't replace CNC, but rather traditional heavy manufacturing tooling:
One of the investors in the company, managing partner of BMW iVentures Uwe Higgen told The Register that the car manufacturer has warehouses full of tooling equipment for its different cars, each of which typically costs millions of dollars to create. It also takes months for those tools to be developed.
Interesting that BMW is investing in this.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Piano Guys - Great Musicians - A Great Honor

I don't know how many of you have listened to "The Piano Guys" but their music is just awesome. This video is special as I was one of the several folks that got to be part of the production process. (My author name is in the credits).  The wife of Jon Schmidt, the piano player, read my third book "Small Town Roads" and sent me the most heart warming handwritten letter as to how those words, as the book had an underlying grief theme, helped them as they had just lost their 21-year-old daughter in a tragic hiking accident. That meant so much to me. Great family, great music, and a connection was formed. I was so honored to be part of this video.

Joe Cocker - Ain't No Sunshine

The Queen Of The World is off to a family gathering, leaving Wolfgang and me as Wild And Crazy Bachelors here at Castle Borepatch.

Oh, foo.

She's not just a delightful resting place for the eyes, but she's a lot of fun.  She's one of the best conversationalists I've ever known, and so there's always great company about here in the castle.

Dang, it's quiet.  Too quiet.

I've posted this song before, but Joe Cocker is one of the few artists (along with Michael Jackson, of all people) to do the song differently from Bill Withers.  This is a good rendition - interestingly different - but I'd rather not have the chance to post it at all.

Oh, foo, indeed.


I've ordered this shirt.

There are security bugs there, too.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

100 years of Communism

How strange that teachers and professors do not teach this: 1991 comparison of per-capita GDP of communist and non-communist countries:


Communism robs a nation of 80% or more of its wealth.  You don't even have to talk about the body count, just the impact on the economy.  Add in the destruction of the environment: Chernobyl, the Aral Sea, the Three Gorges Dam, etc and it is a damning indictment of the modern leftist's world view.

The most expensive programming error ever?

Bitcoin users, beware:
There's a lot of hair-pulling among Ethereum alt-coin hoarders today – after a programming blunder in Parity's wallet software let one person bin $280m of the digital currency belonging to scores of strangers, probably permanently. 
Parity, which was set up by Ethereum core developer Gavin Woods, admitted today that a user calling themselves devops199 had "accidentally" triggered a bug in its multi-signature wallets that hold Ethereum coins. As a result, wallets created after July 20 are now locked down and inaccessible, quite possibly permanently, thus nuking $90m of Woods' own savings. 
Multi-signature wallets mean more than one person has to sign off on a transaction before funds are moved, and are popular with companies and investment groups looking to protect their assets. Unfortunately, Parity's technology is seriously flawed: in July a hacker managed to exploit errors in the multi-signature code to steal about $30m in Ethereum.
Quite frankly, it sounds like their code is a mess.  Given the high visibility of the cryptocurrency market, there is undoubtably huge pressure to ship software on time.  This will not improve code quality.

My prediction: this isn't the last time we'll see something like this.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Well that's your problem, right there

Awesomest service description in history.

Robot surgeons - outcomes are worse with them than without

It seems that some "Insanely Great" ideas aren't so hot when you measure actual outcomes:
Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations. 
The researchers, led by Stanford visiting scholar Gab Jeong, weighed outcomes for both robot-assisted and traditional laparoscopic kidney removal and rectal resection. With kidney surgery, they found that where surgeons used a robot, the procedure time dragged on more than four hours in 46.3 per cent of cases, compared to just 28.5 per cent of cases where the surgeon worked without a mechanical assistant.
There are likely many issues in play here: immature technology, a long and bureaucratic FDA approval process, and high levels of training needed for surgeons and nurses.  The technology at least will evolve, but this points out the difficulty in introducing "game changing" technologies in mission-critical fields.

More importantly, it shows the difficulty in targeting the types of problems where robots can improve outcomes.  This is probably a lot harder than it seems, and with the expense of the FDA approval a lot riskier, too.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Memes gone wild

Pretty funny, but still wild.

Artificial Intelligence: still waiting

AI does poorly at something that every small child excels at: identifying images.  Even newborn babies can recognize that a face is a face and a book is not a face.  AI algorithms take long long training sessions to get to basic competence, and even then it seems that it's practical to fool them:
Students at MIT in the US claim they have developed an algorithm for creating 3D objects and pictures that trick image-recognition systems into severely misidentifying them. Think toy turtles labeled rifles, and baseballs as cups of coffee.
This has been a problem in my field (computer security) for about as long as I can remember - certainly back into the 1980s, and almost certainly longer.  Programmers work to get functionality correct - the program performs as intended when fed normal (i.e. expected) input.  Programmers have done poorly anticipating what a Bad Guy might feed the program as input.  Instead of a name in a text field, how about a thousand letter A characters?  Oops, now the Bad Guy can run code of his choice because the program didn't anticipate this input and then fails in an uncontrolled way.

And now AI looks like it's doing precisely the same old pattern:
The problem is that although neural networks can be taught to be experts at identifying images, having to spoon-feed them millions of examples during training means they don’t generalize particularly well. They tend to be really good at identifying whatever you've shown them previously, and fail at anything in between. 
Switch a few pixels here or there, or add a little noise to what is actually an image of, say, a gray tabby cat, and Google's Tensorflow-powered open-source Inception model will think it’s a bowl of guacamole. This is not a hypothetical example: it's something the MIT students, working together as an independent team dubbed LabSix, claim they have achieved.
“Our work gives an algorithm for reliably constructing targeted 3D physical-world adversarial examples, and our evaluation shows that these 3D adversarial examples work. [It] shows that adversarial examples are a real concern in practical systems,” the team said. 
“A fairly direct application of 3D adversarial objects could be designing a T-shirt which lets people rob a store without raising any alarms because they’re classified as a car by the security camera,” they added.
Double oops.

The problem is how programs are designed and implemented.  And quite frankly, designing a program that can anticipate all possible attacks is probably a fool's errand - the program would be so complicated that it would probably run poorly, if at all.

The moral is to use software as a tool, but always understand that the output can be wonky.  This is especially so when someone wants the output to go wonky.  A.I. can be a useful tool, but anyone who thinks this will change the world is in for a quite nasty surprise.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A seasonal warning

Let's be careful out there.

It's funny because it's true.

Johann Strauss - Tik Tak Polka op.365

You set your clocks back last night, and so clocks are top of mind today.  The Waltz King, Johann Strauss, wrote something for that.  It wasn't a waltz, but instead came from his operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat).  It is intentionally upbeat, verging on manic.  To maximize sales, many 19th century composers would publish short pieces from their longer works as sheet music.  Strauss had six such pieces from Die Fledermaus published this way.  It was challenging for an amateur to play simply because of its speed, but this has remained one of Strauss' most popular (non-Waltz) pieces.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Seen on the way to the Willie Nelson concert

It's funny because it's true.

Elvis Otieno - The Kenyan Country Music scene

Kenya is largely rural and the majority of the people are farmers, so perhaps it's not surprising to find that the themes of Country Music resonate there.  They resonate so much that there is a huge Country Music scene there.  Interestingly, it's not the new "Country Pop", but rather the music from the '70s and '80s - Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers.  Much of this is due to Elvis Otieno, known as "Sir Elvis":
The celebrated musician, who is determined to bring country music to Africa and in particular Kenya says it has not been easy. "Every time we hit the stage, it was always a shock to most locals who couldn't imagine that a Kenyan could do country. That is the reason they love to listen to old-school country from the 1960s, 70s and 80s recorded in Nashville by the likes of Charley Pride and Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Don Williams and Skeeter Davis," he told Metropolitan.
It seems that Kenyan society is fertile ground for the themes of old school Country Music - God, hard work, family, striving, loss, but never giving up.
Despite being a Kenyan and an African, the story of his early life is straight out of an American country song. He was born in a whistle-stop town on Western Kenya's railroad line. He's the son of a pentecostal preacher who played gospel music on the guitar. 
"When I look back at my life, I'm like, okay, I think that's really country," he jokes. 
His family left Kenya for Norway when Elvis was seven, which explains the Scandinavian lilt as he croons Presley's songs. Norway is where he got serious about country music. He played in a country band. He started listening to new country, and as a student, he visited the US and attended in his first country concert: Shania Twain. 
Soon Elvis was consuming every country record he could find, finding a strong connection with the classic Opri-style country music made famous by Jim Reeves, Charley Pride and Dolly Parton, as well as new country sound of Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson. 
Inevitably, he picked up a guitar and started making music of his own. And much like the classic wayfaring loner from a country song, he hasn't looked back since.
Here's Sir Elvis, doing a cover of a great Randy Travis song.