Small code with powerful results, the occasional opinion … and beer.

10 Nov 2015
The 26th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

I was lucky to be in the United States Air Force and stationed at Tempelhof Central Air Base in Berlin, on the day the Berlin Wall fell: Nov 9, 1989.  It occurred only one month after I married my wife, so the event is strongly etched in both of our minds.  I am occasionally asked where I was when it happened, and what is my memory of the event.

I was in at home in Berlin, which was a huge benefit. My strongest memory is actually what I watched on TV right after I was told about the borders being opened. Bear with me: this may be very different from what you might expect.

The previous night, my wife Heidi and I had thrown a party at our house. The next morning, one of our guests and his girlfriend dropped by the house. He asked us if we had heard the news about the borders being opened.  I was a little confused and asked what he meant. He said that the border with East Berlin was opened. I was shocked: not only that it could happen, but that I had heard nothing of it. My first reaction was to turn on my TV to check the news. This is where my experience of the finding out the Berlin Wall had fallen is a little different than most.

Our TV was a multi-system TV.  It was capable of not only viewing American TV (formatted in what was known as NTSC), but we could watch TV from most broadcast formats in the world at the time.  That included PAL for the West German (or West Belin) TV stations, and SECAM for the communist countries which included East German TV broadcast from East Berlin.  As fate would have it, the channel which the TV was tuned into was the same East German TV channel we had watched the previous night.  So our first glimpse into what had happened came from watching a reaction from East Berlin–the communist side.

For American readers, I need to explain something about the West German and East German TV practices at the time.  German TV stations would use young female hosts (models) to introduce shows to its audience.  As part of the normal programming between shows on West German channels, it was common to see a well-decorated set with a see-through Plexiglas podium. In it, a beautiful, well-dressed young woman with a big smile casually (and, yes, even enticingly) leaned on the podium while talking about the upcoming program which was about to air.  The East German television stations copied this practice, but it was easy to see it was East Germany from the lower quality of the set and the more conservative mannerisms from the hostess.

As the TV warmed up (remember those days?) and the picture began to appear, the East German set with the Plexiglas podium was there, and the female host was there.  But things were very different.  The female host was not casually leaning up against the podium as she normally would.  She was standing straight up–almost rigid.  She was holding several papers in her hand to read from, as usual, but both of her hands were gripping them very tightly.  And they were shaking.  She was visibly sweating and the smile was a very nervous one, and her voice was cracking as she read the official announcement that the border with West Berlin was open.  It was quite a image.

Immediately, my mind flashed back to something I had read at one time.  It was the story of a bear in a cage at the zoo.  The cage was about 20 feet in length, and the bear lived there a long time.  The bear in the cage was fed daily, by the zookeeper opening the door and putting the food inside the door.  The bear would get up, walk about 10 feet to his food and eat.  After the zoo modified its exhibit to a more natural environment to get rid of the cage, the bear just stayed in one spot in the new exhibit.  Daily, the zookeeper would put his food about the same 10 feet from the bear.  The bear would walk the ten feet and eat his food.

One day, the zookeeper put the food 15 feet from the bear.  The bear, got up, walked 10 feet… and stopped.  The bear only had 5 feet to go to his food, but would not move.  Physically, he was shaking and very disoriented.  But he would not move from the spot.  His routine was changed, but to him it was devastating.

That was the image I was watching in real life that day on the East German TV channel, as the beautiful young woman who had the courage to stand in front of the camera and read the official announcement was experiencing the same dread as the change the bear was experiencing.  I am sure she was visually and emotionally expressing what her viewers in East Germany must have been going through as well.  The cage was open and they were free to go… but it was scary.

This was a very powerful scene, one that is burned deeply into my psyche and impacts my thinking to this very day.

 

16 Oct 2015
The Mysterious, But Not-So-Surprising Georgia Guidestones

R.C. Christian, who is he? It’s a pseudonym for the person who created the Georgia Guidestones.

The Guidestones are a strange set of ten commandment-like statements in eight languages on four tablets. They were put on private property in Georgia in 1980, and are becoming more broadly known in the world.

These are the 10 guides contained in the stones:

  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
  2. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
  3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
  4. Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
  5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
  6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
  7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
  8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
  9. Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
  10. Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

I spent a good part of my life in the new-age movement, so the precepts in these guidestones are familiar to me.  I’ve seen them separately in numerous other writings over time.  I can also tell you that even though they sound rational, the precepts contained in the Guidestones are anything but godly.  It takes a comparison with the words of the author of the real Ten Commandments to see the deception.

The first red flag about these guidestones isn’t even in the 10 guides themselves: it starts with the author. Why use a pseudonym? If these guides are so great in themselves, why not stand in front of the world’s population alone or with your supporters, and champion it? The main reason people choose to use a pseudonym is to hide investigation of the source. Why would the source for this need to be hidden, unless it actually masks something that is not as “divinely inspired” as it would appear?

With that in mind, let’s compare the precepts here to something that has open readership and a known author: God’s word.

  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

Where in the world did this arbitrary number come from? The world currently sustains 7 billion people. There have been over a billion people on the planet since 1800, and the earth has sustained that. So why would the goal be even half the number on the planet in 1800?

I have had people argue with me in the past about the famines in Ethiopia and North Korea, etc, as examples of non-sustainability.  But the truth is, those famines were caused by corrupt governments blocking food from reaching the people who needed it (Ethiopia) or completely ignoring a need they knew how to fulfill and not accepting help from other nations to save face (North Korea).  It certainly was not for any lack of food supply in the world.  North America (the United States particularly) produces enough food for itself and another 300-500 million people on the planet, and was trying to supply it to the people of both North Korea and Ethiopia.

Even if the world had 30 billion people on it, the creator of the world clearly demonstrated that supplying it is not a problem.  He personally turned several baskets of bread and fish into enough food for 5,000 people.  This was a clear demonstration that supplying the needs of people on Earth is covered, if the world works with him to do it.

  1. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.

So I can interpret this in a few ways.  Is this to ..

  • encourage specific choices in the selection of parents of a child
  • scientific intervention in the genes to improve the quality of the life reproduced
  • imposing restrictions or quotas on the quantity of human life reproduced
  • a combination of any of these.

None of these alone or in combination is good, in any way.  In fact, the concept embodied in this guide has been manifested many times in history in horrible ways (genocides are a part of this thinking). And this guide goes directly against the original command that God gave to Adam and Eve. ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Have many children. Fill the earth and take control of it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the air. Rule over every living thing that moves on the earth.”’ (Genesis 1:28).

Remember, God never rescinded or changed this command, and he even told Abraham that his descendants would number more than the grains of sand on the beach. I’m sure the number of grains of sand on any single beach in the world is well beyond 500 million.  This guide point is to support and enforce the first guide point.  Don’t make the mistake of seeing this guide point as altruistic: it is not benign in any way.

The subtle message of “improving fitness and diversity” is that it results from guiding reproduction.  Anyone with any insight can see that there are some fetuses are going to not live up to that standard.

  1. Unite humanity with a living new language.

What’s wrong with English?  Since the end of World War II, the dominance of English in the world has reached every corner.  It is also the defacto language of business in the world.  It has an extremely rich vocabulary for expression of thoughts and ideas. There have been other languages created (Esperanto) which were intended to become the language of the world, but they are spoken by a small minority of the world.

The simple answer for this guide is that it is another attempt to revive the Tower of Babel. After the Tower of Babel was built, God created confusion in the language among the people. His reason was that the people would be unstoppable in anything–His own words. They could accomplish anything with a common language. Read Genesis 11:1-8.

While it may seem great to have humanity fully united, God warns that the heart of man is full of evil.  So uniting hearts full of evil in this way is a very bad thing.

This is the biggest clue to the nature of the guide stones being related to the New World Order.  Its focus is to unite humanity against the God of Israel, just as the one language would have done in Babel had God not introduced confusion into the language … AND scattered the people across the earth.  In our world, the “Global Village” refers to mankind no longer being scattered over the world (at least in a virtual sense).  So a new common language returns the earth back to a state of Babel capable of anything, except being able to stop God from confusing them.

Reread that last paragraph carefully.

  1. Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.

This is the guide point behind the common bumper sticker often seen on cars: “Coexist” (with all the letters derived from various religious symbols of the world).  It is also a cause of the screwy political correctness we are tormented with today.  While tempered reason sounds like the solution (after all, science is based on reasoning), reasoning has a bad habit of making decisions on what it can reason, being unaware or unknowledgeable of things that would cause a different conclusion.  Worse off, science is not free from prejudice.  There are many cases (dinosaur bones particularly) where the information was intentionally falsified, and led to generations of teaching based on wrong information.

This guide point is also the way to get individuals to submit their view of God and traditions under an artificial religion that is designed for all mankind–a big part of the New World Order.  Even God has an interesting passage in his word that goes against tempered reason. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16)

  1. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

This doesn’t sound like anyone could argue with the principle here.  It is a good principle, except… the devil is in the details.  What represents “fair laws and just courts” is going to vary according to the person you ask.  To me, this statement is no different than a candidate for President of the United States participating in a televised debate, who says, “We should protect the middle class.”

Well, how?  Every political candidate in any debate for decades has said that, and yet the middle class has steadily dwindled over those same decades.  To me, this guide point is a meaningless, bandwagon mentality intended to sway people to an idea which they can’t even do themselves.  Notice the guide point not only says protect “people” but “nations”.  This implies something global in scope.  Having lived for over half-a-century, I would much rather have individual independent nations protecting their people, than a single global entity protecting nations.

One nation having a corrupt government and not protecting its people is a bad thing.  A world having a corrupt one-world government is all hell breaking loose.  Who does the world turn to for help when that happens?  Obviously, not itself.

  1. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.

We actually have a form of this now, but it doesn’t always stop war because powerful nations do not see it as binding.  It is idealistic, absolutely.  And it is something I would support, until the decision is enforceable to the point where a nation loses its sovereignty.  That’s a deeper subject that I won’t touch here.

  1. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.

This is similar to number 5 above. Petty here is in the eye of the beholder.  If you were to ask a member of ISIS about this, you would get a radically different answer than in the West.

  1. Balance personal rights with social duties.

How this is practiced currently differs even in general “isms” which exist in the political spectrum: Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, etc. Again. we have a similar problem to number 5: it’s another bandwagon-mentality statement with the devil in the details. The worst part of this is the number of very wealthy people who advocate this, but don’t follow it themselves. That alone should be a strong warning.

  1. Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.

Who is the “infinite”? The choice of word here is driven by guide point number 4 (tempered reason).  Why not say seek harmony with God?  The word “infinite” is used because many people see God not as a person, but as an energy source that can be tapped into not unlike plugging a cord into an outlet.  And that’s very appealing to our selfish nature.

The new age teaches about the need of every human soul to line up (i.e. not conflict) with the forces of the universe, hence the inference of the “infinite” as an energy source. This belief is known as pantheism. The Bible teaches the opposite: that we are completely dependent on God and He is sovereign.  And there is one subtle nuance hidden in the reference “infinite” that is easy to overlook. Everyone of us, God and even Lucifer has a soul that is infinite, and we are not solely an energy source.  So infinite is very misleading and deceptive.

This goal of this guide point and guide point 3 (a new living language) is to empower the new Babel.  It’s not about lining up with God.  It’s the manifestation of the lie that the serpent told Eve in the garden of Eden.  The serpent told Eve that there were two things that God was trying to hide from her and Adam by telling them not to eat the apple.  First, they would not die, and second that they would have the knowledge of good and evil.  In other words, they would have some of God’s power.  Both are lies.

The infinite is a term Lucifer gives to man to lead him away from the one true God.  It is the core of a world view that sees man having full control over his destiny: a Luciferian doctrine and a poisoning of God’s original intent for the world.

  1. Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

This is very deceptive.  As God said in his word, we are to multiply and to subdue the Earth.  Even at 7 billion people on the earth, the amount of space humans take is negligible.  If every person in the world were to stand side by side, and line up in rows with 1 foot of space between them, the entire population of Earth would fit within the county limits of Jacksonville Florida.  Over 80% of the world’s population lives in cities, and only 20% live in rural areas.  Over 60% of the world’s population lives within a one-hour drive of a major body of water.  The other 40% live further away.  That’s a lot of open land.

There are plenty of protected nature reserves and parks over the Earth.  This is a good goal in guide post number 10, but it is so easily misconstrued to promote the agenda of radical environmentalists and others who worship idols (as in Mother Gaia).  It is also is a big part of the United Nations Agenda 21.  Read up on that if you are unfamiliar with it.

—-

In conclusion, treat the Georgia Guidestones for what they are: another thing that is attempting to draw the world’s people away from the one true God, and instead lead everyone to worship humanity.  This is another artifact left by anonymous forces who are trying to establish the One World Government for their own sinister purposes.  This is a group of people who’s only moral compass is that they can do anything to anyone that they want, as long as they tell them first.

So remember to also treat the Georgia Guidestones with the same understanding as their creators did.   These guidestones are not a goal of wisdom.  They express the goals of a group of elitists, and are a clear warning to all of mankind.

01 Sep 2015
Some tips when tracking your finances online

As a lot of people have done or are doing, I moved my finance tracking off the old (read: previously) reliable Quicken desktop application, to a provider on the web.  I love the convenience of having quick access on all devices I use and wherever I am.

But there are still things I will not do on the web when it comes to finances, regardless of how nice the “you are safe with us” security logo shines at me on the home page.  And as far as the web is concerned, some old practices in the banking system (like holding funds for days until the actual transaction takes place) really mess with accuracy when importing data.  I want to pass on some things I do differently online than in the desktop Quicken, which may be useful for others.  All are serious, despite my tongue-in-cheek comments with them.

Use the import function to load your transactions, but never assume it is complete

As banks, credit unions and credit card providers began adding the ability to export transactions to their web sites, reducing manual entry of transactions into Quicken or an online system became much easier. But the imports will not reflect the uncleared transactions. For banks and credit unions, the uncleared transactions are related to paper checks and ACH (Automated Clearing House) transactions.  An ACH transaction is how a check is paid in by originating bank to the receiving bank.  It has also been adapted for virtual checks, which is either the “pay from my bank account” seen online, or when a company uses a service to scan your paper checks (like Amscot or Verizon uses) instead of directly depositing the paper check into their banks.  Mobile deposit is also a form of virtual checking.

These transfers don’t occur immediately (like an ATM card used as a debit card).  They are queued in the ACH system, and it is amusing to watch what happens with the imports from both sides of the transaction over several days.  One will show the withdrawal, and the receiver shows the money arriving days later.

My personal technique to overcome this delay is to create a transaction called “PLACEHOLDER”, which simply is entered into the losing (officially, credited) bank account with the amount expected.  It is like entering in a check, then clearing it when it shows up on the statement.  The difference is that it has no serial number, and the PLACEHOLDER entry is deleted when the real transaction shows up in the imported data.

This technique keeps the available balances accurate, and is the practice as something that people who write checks are used to: reconciling.  The PLACEHOLDER is also useful for marking reserved allocations (say tax escrow or planned expenses) which need to change the available amount to reflect a future expense.

Avoid putting your real information describing your accounts online

If you use a web-based service or application which offers to automatically download and import your transactions from your accounts for you, and you use it, this recommendation does not apply to you.  The service or application will require detailed information to make that connection.

I personally don’t let my service do the work for me.  I download the files myself and import myself, since I am more than a little thorough when it comes to managing finances.  I also have a basic risk understanding that anything contained in my financial tracking application or service can be compromised by a online attack.  So I don’t put anything that could easily identify my accounts in the account settings.

A fun way to do this is to simply borrow the technique from the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds”.  In the movie, the car thieves gave women’s names to the cars they were targeting.  So anyone listening on the radio would only hear updates about “Susan” and “Tracy”, etc, not realizing they were reporting movement of stolen property.  Now if hackers compromise your financial tracking site, your cage won’t get rattled while everyone else who used real information will wonder how far the attack will affect them.

Also, you can turn it into a game.  Why not call your bank something like:

  • “First Intergalactic Savings and Loan”
  • “National Limestone Bunker Asset Management”
  • “One Delta Ten Tango”

Be as creative as you can get.  That way, if someone leaks the account information, you will amuse the masses.  Maybe you will even contribute to the nutty conspiracy videos on YouTube.  And even if the information is not leaked publicly, you can chuckle to yourself over a beer, smiling at other people panicking over the electronic compromise, while you picture the hacker looking at his screen and asking himself…

“Who’s Marsha?”

 

20 Jul 2015
Your Rulings Speak So Loudly, I Don’t Want to Hear a Word You Say

The recent decision by the Supreme Court to declare gay marriage a right protected under the 14th amendment to the US Constitution (Obergefell v. Hodges) caused the expected celebrations and disappointment, and is not a surprise to me. It is a pattern I have seen for the last two decades, where activists use the court as a way to bypass inaction by Congress, or adversarial decisions to their cause. This is not healthy for the United States.

Back in college, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life. It is directly related to what I am talking about here. In a management class of about 25 people, the professor split us into groups of 5, with one person in each group appointed as the leader. I was the leader for my group.  He gave each group the same problem to solve: you’re an imaginary corporation with a tight deadline, and tight resources, which involved people having to make sacrifices of resources to solve the problem. We had to decide what sacrifices were going to be made to solve the problem.

The problem itself was irrelevant, but how it was solved by all the groups was eye-opening. My group was the first to finish: it wasn’t planned, it just happened that way. I asked everyone what their thoughts were, taking notes on everything. Once that was complete, I spelled out my decision and the thinking behind it. I was not aware of it at the time, but I was using a directive approach to problem solving. It is not a right or wrong approach, it is simply one of several ways to approach problem solving. There was discussion about the problem, but in hindsight, it was very limited and not very interactive among the people in the group. And the one key thing that stood out: the members of the group were not very talkative, and were in fact resentful of my decision and each other. It’s not that it was a bad decision: the logic was there. But the group clearly resented how the decision was made.

As time progressed in the exercise, other groups began to finish and came back to the main class area with their chairs.  But one group took a long time: well over 20 minutes past our group finishing.  And it was a loud and very engaged group as well, often becoming loudly passionate.  The leader of their group was just mediating the conversation.  At the end of their session, people in the group were visually happy with the outcome as their returned their chairs, rejoining the rest of us.  Interestingly, when the professor asked for each group’s decision, the actual decisions were almost identical to each other with some very minor variations.

And the professor, of course, made the point that the exercise was to learn the pros and cons of various approaches to problem solving.  Well, it worked.  When he asked each group what they liked and disliked about the decision, there was a common opinion.  It was not so much what the decision was: it was whether the people involved in making the decision felt like they were not only fully heard, but also were given a fair stake in the decision.  To understand what I mean by a fair stake, an unfair stake is being forced to accept responsibility for a implementing a decision you feel is in conflict with information you know.   The last group, whose leader chose to only be a mediator, made sure everyone was being given a chance to voice their thoughts.  He also didn’t make any decision: he fully delegated the decision to the group, and accepted what they collectively agreed on.

I can not emphasize not only how satisfied the members of his group were, but also how united and supportive of the decision they were.

Not unlike my experience in the classroom that day for my group, the Supreme Court has effectively driven a wedge in America society by not only making this decision, but more importantly, even taking the case in the first place.  There has been an ongoing discussion in Congress about how to address the many political, social, economic and legal issues that are deeply interconnected and affected by the recognition of marriage outside of its current definition in law.  This process, which allows all interested parties to voice their concerns, objections, advocacy, etc was just usurped by the Supreme Court.

Using my classroom scenario, what the Supreme Court just did was the same as if I walked over to the group taking the longest time because of their open discussion and gave them my decision for their use. That’s not my right to do that, and the Supreme Court clearly overstepped its boundaries as well.

The Supreme Court judges who dissented did something in this case that is also unprecedented.  Rather than issuing a single dissenting opinion, they each chose to issue their own.  And some are rather scathing of the majority who voted in favor of the plaintiff.  It is worth reading John Roberts dissenting option: he covers what I have said and much more.

While gay marriage advocates are celebrating the decision, they are about to realize the damage they have done to their cause with this case.  Already, opinion polls are showing a downturn in public opinion for gay marriage.  Using tactics like this (bypassing a law making process with the court system) creates real resentment among Americans, and throws fuel on the accusations that gay marriage advocates are arrogant and elitist.

The real damage is not immediately apparent.  The ruling is another step to undo our nation’s motto: E Pluribus Unum (Out of many–One).

 

01 Jul 2015
The Dangerous Path of Ridiculing Those Who May Deserve It

http://gizmodo.com/the-anti-vaccine-movement-should-be-ridiculed-because-1683258152

Ridicule is the absolute wrong way to do this. Ridicule is a personal attack, and discourages free discussion and openess. Do this enough, and people shutdown. It may sound good to shutdown an anti-vaxxer, but it shuts down much more than that and creates quiet enemies–and not just among anti-vaxxers. In the future, even on a subject you may have common ground on, you will never get that person to work with you on it because of the ridicule.

In addition, Ridicule also makes the person doing the ridiculing seem like the one who has the closed mind and is insensitive.

The real intent of the ridicule is to isolate the idea from spreading and taking hold in fertile, unexposed (i.e. uneducated) minds. The right way to deal with this is to create some kind of penalty for someone who had knowledge of, and access to a vaccine for themselves or their dependents but refused to take it, which caused themselves or their dependents to become infected. But it has to be done systematically, and showing compassion.

Take this warning seriously.  I am seeing this ridiculing occur in many aspects, including simple political speech.  Have we as a nation forgotten, that one of our founding fathers (Patrick Henry) is repeatedly quoted as saying, “I may not like what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”  It is only out of respect for someone, that a person changes.  Trying to generate fear with tyrannical rants (and writings) sears that person’s conscience whether they see it or not.  Ultimately, the ridiculing becomes an ugly form of arrogance, obvious to everyone except the person ridiculing.

Watch this video clip of the Nazi court trial of the people accused of the plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944. You don’t even need to know German to get the message. Imagine how our courts and government would look like operating like this. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it could not happen here. All of this starts with a lack of respect: especially for your enemy.

A sidenote: the judge in the trial doing the ridiculing is Roland Frieser. He was killed in a bombing raid, and not only did no one care that he died, he is even buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetary plot belonging to his wife’s family. So again, be very wary the path of ridiculing.

28 Jan 2015
Diffusing the patent trolls

The ABA Journal recently published an article dated Feb 1, 2015 (ironic, since today is January 28, 2015) which discusses the effects of a recent Supreme Court decision regarding software patents. In an earlier post here, I described the problem of broad patents with no practical development of the idea itself.  There is a movement to get Congress to address the problem of patent abuse, which needs to continue, but this court case provides some immediate relief to the problem.

Not only does the court case mentioned in the article solve this problem, but the solution goes further. It puts into question any patent for a software process which is simply placing an existing method into software. This should be the coup-de-grace for patent trolling that has been going on for quite some time.

Anyone who develops software should take the time to read this article.

Business-method and software patents may go through the looking glass after Alice decision

10 Nov 2014
The Third Man to credit for the fall of The Berlin Wall

The Fall of the Berlin Wall is an event that is very personal to me, since I was stationed at Tempelhof airbase in Berlin with the US Air Force when it happened.  As the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall is being celebrated in Germany, there are two key people being credited and remembered for the opening of the East German borders that occurred on that November 9th, 1989. One was the [East] German Democratic Republic (GDR) politician who mistakenly mentioned that the borders were being opened, and the other was the GDR border guard who ultimately chose to open the border due to an unclear situation with his leadership. The NPR article referenced here has the details of who they are, and how this played out:

The Man Who Disobeyed His Boss And Opened The Berlin Wall

There is another person who deserves some credit for the ultimate opening of the border, although his actions occurred weeks before Nov 9th.  Still, his critical decision opened the door in East Germany for the wave of democratic reforms, started by Gorachev with his Glasnost policy in the former USSR, to culminate in the events of November 9th which truly ended the Cold War.

That person is Egon Krenz, who was the General Secretary of the German Democratic Republic on that day.

But to understand his contribution, it is necessary to first go back to May of 1989. It was the time when the protests for democratic reform were occurring on the other side of the world in Tienanmen Square, Beijing China. The ultimate result of those protests were a harsh crackdown by the Chinese military to disperse the crowds and arrest the leaders. It resulted in a lot of condemnation of the action by the world, and also left the indelible impression of “tank man”: the lone unknown man who stood in front of a set of tanks trying to leave Tienanmen Square and brought them to a stand still. The symbolism of that one act was a catalyst for the wave of changes that swept Eastern Europe in the coming months.

Fast forward to October 9th, 1989, to the town of Leipzig, in the southern part of the GDR.  At the time, Egon Krenz is not yet the General Secretary of the GDR.  Erich Honecker was still the General Secretary of the country, as he had been since 1971. Der Spiegel has a great article on how this huge protest started. It was a major step to the Berlin Wall coming down.

‘We Are the People’: A Peaceful Revolution in Leipzig

This large, spontaneous protest put the GDR goverment under similar pressure as the Tienanmen Square protests had done to the Peoples Republic of China.  How does the government react to the protests? Ultimately, General Secretary Eric Honecker made the decision to deploy the military to suppress the protests. He had been a big advocate for following China’s example of dealing with the reform movements. Egon Krenz received the order for Honicker and, for whatever reason, ordered his subordinates to ignore it and made sure that it would not be implemented. His decision undoubtedly saved numerous lives.

Not long after, an unpopular Honecker left his office, and Egon Krenz replaced him as General Secretary of the GDR. He held that office during the border openings, and until December of 1989. Interestingly, he became one of a number of former GDR officials in the 1990’s who were tried and imprisoned for a period of time for the human rights abuses related to the killing of people trying to flee the country.

Krenz’ contribution to an almost completely peaceful fall of communism in East Germany is not that well known outside of Germany and deserves mention. You can read more about him specifically in the article below. He is commonly labeled as a Communist apparatchik, was only at the pinnacle of his career for a very short period of time, and probably spent time in prison symbolically for other people who should have (but no longer couldn’t). Yet, he was definitely in the right place at the right time, and made a very good decision that prevented would would have been inevitable bloodshed.

Hero or Villian? Egon Krenz, Communist who got to the top just as the Party was over.

31 Jul 2014
The RFID implanting scare, and an incorrect comparison in the Snopes.com analysis.

** Before implying anything about Snopes.com from the title, please note that I refer to Snopes.com often and find their information to be quite useful for a quick comparison of what I am reading against known facts. They are not the final source of information for me, but have proven to always be a good starting point.

This article notes a very specific inaccuracy, and I only publish it here to emphasize the importance of criticial thinking with every source of information. I think anyone running a site like snopes.com, which undoubtedly deals with a near flood of rumors to investigate and document, would have potentially overlooked what I am documenting here. **

Back in July of 2013, snopes.com posted an article about an end-times email scare.  The scare was a strange mix of misinformation about the health care law, combined with claims about radio-frequency identification (RFID) implanted chips mentioned in a broadcast NBC report.  As the snopes.com article correctly shows, those claims weren’t really there in the NBC report, nor was there any such language in the health care law.

The original article is here. I only recently found the article, because the email finally made its rounds into my inbox.

So what’s inaccurate in the snopes.com article? The snopes.com article contains a snapshot of the original photo of the RFID chip which appeared in the email mentioned (image to the right below), and also has a link to the product page which Snope’s claims is the RFID chip in the email (image to the left). I’ve put them side-by-side below for comparison.


Snopes (from medgadget.com)

Emailed

The snopes.com article claims the chip pictured in the email is the same as in this article.  The exact quote from snopes.com is the following:

Some May 2012 versions of the hoax circulated by e-mail and Facebook postings displayed a photograph of the purported chip meant to be implanted, an item described as the size of “a grain of rice.” The chip shown in the photo is actually one that measures glucose levels in diabetes patients, as evidenced by this 2007 article about this new concept in glucose monitoring.

I disagree with Snopes’ conclusion for the following reasons:

#1: The person in the image isn’t simply altered with photoshop to blur out the face in one picture.  There are a lot of things different between the two people.

  1. The position of the finger above the eye is blocking two different portions of the eye in each picture.
  2. The photo in the email cannot be a cropped version of the original photo in the medgadget.com article because you have to have something to crop.  Notice that the view in the email photo from left to right shows more facial area than the photo in medgadget.com, which it is supposedly copied from.  Cropping shows a smaller area of a larger photo, not the other way around.  There is no nose in the medgadget.com photo to copy.
  3. The fingers in the email photo show skin and fingernails: in other words, it is a bare hand.  The fingers in the medgadget.com photo are wearing latex gloves.

#2: The chips in the pictures are clearly different.  Note the following differences.

  1.  The medgadget.com photo shows brass-colored sensors at the end of the chip (bottom).  The email photo does not have them; it is a solid clear shell.  This makes sense since a glucose measuring chip needs sensors on the outside to make contact with the fluids to measure them.  An RFID chip does not need external sensors: it is not measuring anything.
  2. The medgadget.com photo shows a thicker shell on the top half of the chip, while the the email photo does not have this.

The chip in the email is a Verichip product, based on a Destron device available since the 90’s. The product slip for it is here. This chip has extensive use in research laboratories for identifying animals in experiments, and is a major advance for this industry. Prior to implantable RF identification, mice chewing off an ear with a tag could ruin days or weeks of research efforts if the animal could not be identified. It also allowed the identification number to be read directly into the notebook/laptop by waving a wand over the animal (no danger of invalid number entry from a human interface like a keyboard).

The device pictured in the email is similar to the device at the top left on the product slip: there are no external sensors on an identification responder. Functionally, the chip in the email and in this product slip is similar to the automated highway toll paying device in your car. When a transmitter at the top of a toll-booth gets close enough to the device in your car when you pass under it, the device in your car transmits its identification number in response. That is all it does.

Any other conclusions about the purpose of the device in humans, whether it is the mark of the beast, etc, are up to you. I am merely pointing out that the chip in the email is not the chip which Snopes.com claims it is.

(original NBC video mentioned in the email)

22 Jan 2014
Big Brother at its best? Well, maybe…

Recently, it was revealed that the NSA is able to break common encryption protocols used on the internet.  You can read the article here:

http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/5/4698808/most-common-encryption-protocols-are-useless-against-nsa-surveillance

But, to me, it’s not really that much of a revelation.  And taking the article’s claims at face value will cause the user to miss a practical side of security that is often overlooked.

Having been in the technology world for close to 40 years, I read a lot of material related to technology.  Around the late 1980’s when PC’s still dominated the computer networks and the internet was still not opened yet for general public use, there was an article about 40-bit encryption and even 64-bit encryption in the marketplace.  It also mentioned that the academic community was already talking about 128-bit encryption, but that there were signs that the NSA was not going to allow this.

Why would the NSA not allow it?  Because quite frankly, if the NSA is not able to decode it, and the cipher gets into the hands of people with evil intent, it can’t be monitored for abuse and it can be used in many evil ways.  One of NSA’s tasks is to ensure the security of government communications.  This task falls into that realm.  If there is no foreseeable way to break the code, you cannot deny its use to people who would use it against you.  This is one of the reasons why the United States has laws banning export of certain encryption technology.

That’s why I am not surprised that NSA would have the capability to break the encryption we use on the internet. BUT DON’T MAKE THE MISTAKE OF THINKING THIS: The NSA can decode everything I do on the internet now and read it.  It’s easy to come to that conclusion because of the stated ability to break a cipher.  But there is another aspect to breaking a cipher key that is just as important: how long does it take to actually break it.

Did the article mention anything about how long it takes?  Of course not.  That’s the real secret, right?  Even though NSA has the ability to crack the keys, the actual time spent on the effort could be days, weeks, or months of time and involve thousands of CPUs running in concurrence to solve it.  Once the key has been cracked, all the data collected to that point which used the key is now decipherable, but not before then.

In any security system, there are two core aspects to it.  The first is the physical or virtual layers of security intended to stop access to the item being protected, to prevent unintended use.  In this case, that is the data.  The second, is the time required to gain access.  How long is the lock I installed going to stop a criminal from finding the key, and making his own copy to gain access?  In a practical example of a break-in, a thief may be trying to gain access.  If I add an alarm to the front door, even if the thief has figured out the key to get in, how long does he have before he is discovered and arrested by the police responding to the alarm.

Of course, if the thief has found a way to get access to your key chain, the time he needs to spend picking the lock mechanism to get the right combination of tumbler settings is zero.  So if NSA has found a way to get at the cryptographic certificates on a server or network device directly (the virtual world’s keychain), their time figuring out the cipher values also goes to zero.  But I doubt this capability exists, short of a software bug or forcing some sort of malware onto the system to help them into the machine’s pockets.  This latter attack is what modern day virus scanners look for.

So just because the NSA may have the ability to break an encryption key doesn’t automatically make that a bad thing. Quite frankly, it’s important to remember that our everyday activities online draw more interest from commercial business activities than government security interests.  The real concern we have is not with NSA, which is just a tool for acquiring and analyzing the data.

The real issue of privacy goes to motives of the people who keep pressing NSA for information and try to pass laws to circumvent constitutional rights to get it.  That is the real problem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

05 Jan 2014
User beware: the hidden gotchas of the Verizon FIOS service

Verizon FIOS is a fiber-optic system capable of delivering very fast internet feeds to residential consumers, in addition to its TV service. With upload speeds in excess of 25Mb, and download speeds in excess of 50Mb (its currently capable of 150Mb), you would think that this service beats cable internet and DSL internet hands down.

Well, speed-wise it does.  But there are quite a few gotchas, including some not so apparent security risks. If you are not a casual residential user of the service and take the time to login to the router , you’ll quickly discover the Actiontec router provided by Verizon is a flashy, poorly designed child’s toy.  While the hardware is solid, the choice of firmware is dismal and, in my opinion, more than a bit dangerous.  It looks and behaves like someone’s abandoned science project, which was picked up and finished by the marketing department at Verizon.  There is no common sense whatsoever in its design or user-experience.

And worse, the firmware also initiates strange connections to Verizon servers, which make me question the router’s security and integrity.  Since I am engineer, I find it appalling what Verizon gives out as a core piece of the network in a user’s home–especially in light of the recently-revealed NSA eavesdropping and network penetration efforts and, before that, the years of black-ops efforts on the net to seize control of networks for bot armies, industrial espionage, monetary theft, etc, etc.

The real test of a good internet connection is not only the speed and how much your network can do for you, but more importantly how much people outside of your home network don’t have a chance to compromise it and, even worse, take control of it. Verizon FiOS architecture fails, quite frankly, very miserably on both of these accounts. Here’s a specific set of reasons why, broken down by the level of importance.

Security and Network Ownership/Management

The Actiontec router has two network interfaces for the WAN (Internet-facing) connection. One is coax, and one is ethernet.  The box is setup by the installer with the coax connection, because the box is designed to work with the DVR unit to access the network for TV program information, etc. And, surprise surprise, the DVR only has a coax connection to access the internet.

This is a very subtle, and very dirty trick to dissuade users from disconnecting the Actiontec router and putting in their own router. Publicly-available routers are known to use standard Cat 5 network connections, so a standard router won’t directly support a connection to the DVR. So this quagmire of giving up your onscreen programming guide to use your own router is created.  Most average users will give-in to using Verizon’s router because they don’t want to give up the programming guide on the TV, and don’t have the knowledge of how to work around that with their own router.

Verizon, for any number of reasons, would love to control the traffic on their network–even to the extent of managing their company assigned router inside your house to enforce their corporate policy and thinking.  This is a very dangerous way of looking at the internet, which is designed for a free-flow of information.  I have documented a legal move made by Verizon in the past in this related post here, written a few months back, which demonstrates why this is their motive.

In addition to the business trick of discouraging alternate router usage, there are also some additional, open ports on the Actiontec router which indicate that it is/can be centrally managed.  Centrally managed means the router can be exposing its settings. logs or even receive remote firmware upgrades at the will of Verizon.  This would violate the cardinal rule I have for any piece of electronic equipment which I own: updates allowed only when I am notified and approve.

While some people will argue that this means a security hole can be patched quickly across the network, the converse is also true.  Because a large set of routers are available to a central management system, an intruder with ill-intent could potentially put a compromised firmware into that system for distribution.  Less aggressively, a release of firmware which has an undiscovered problem could potentially take thousands, if not millions of households offline at one time.

And worse, because Verizon is a publicly traded company, the problem could be concealed, or described in a more generic form as a “network issue we are working to resolve” to mask the real cause of the problem in an attempt to protect stock values.  In the open source world, which DD-WRT is a part of, many people contribute, test, openly write about and scrutinize the software.  Because of the openness, the user has enough information to decide if an upgrade to their router is appropriate.  And if they decide an upgrade is appropriate, they decide upon the time.

Even if DD-WRT were compromised, the chances of it being discovered and exposed are far greater due to its very open, public nature.  Not so with Verizon’s approach.

The Awful User Experience of the Actiontec Router’s web management interface.

In some ways, there are too many pain points in this browser interface to list.  But I will list the ones that stand out to me.

  • Trying to get the user lost the moment they attempt to login.  The very first one starts with the login screen for the router management.  As keystrokes are entered into the password text box of the dialog, the router will actually change the number of asterisks that appear to a larger or smaller number than actually typed.  This is so dumb.  Not only does it confuse the person who might be looking over the operator’s shoulder (the intent), but it royally confuses the operator as well.  When the feedback of what is being typed is not displayed, the only measure of accuracy the person typing has is cadence–a count that can match where the operator expects to be in the sequence.  And Verizon’s interface even screws that up.  I can not emphasize how asinine this is.  Most modern username/password dialogs today have an option to unmask (i.e. don’t hide) the password.  After all, if you’re the only one in the room, what’s there to protect?
  •  Locking yourself out of your own router.  Want to have fun?  Enter a bad password in the password text box, and click the login button several times.  The box will actually lock you out, of your own network in your own house.  Every other router on the market will give you infinite chances to login to the router, if you are connecting from something that originates in the house (Wireless or LAN connections).  It is only the WAN origination points (somewhere from the outside to the network in the house) where a certain amount of consecutive failures will cause a lockout to occur. I was just stunned when I saw this.  Make me get up and recycle the power on my own router to try again, because you (Verizon) threw off my cadence when entering the password–come on !
  • Extraordinarily poor navigation.  The items are all over the place, poorly grouped, inconsistent, and diving down to a menu item often requires you to go back to the top and navigate all the way back down again for another action in that same area.
  • No attempt to memorize any recurring answer the user gave.  Certain areas are labeled as for advanced users only, requiring a click-through to approve going into them.  But each successive time you go into another “advanced users” area, you get asked again.  Add this in to the continuous deep-dives needed in the entire menu system, and the amount of time wasted for simple activity is astonishing.
  • Advertising right on the home page.  This is the most laughable to me.  Once you login, and every time you cycle back to the home page (which it does force you to do a lot), Verizon’s router displays advertising links on the right panel–of an equipment configuration page on the local router!  For those of you who wrote this site and let Verizon make this a requirement of you, super glue a brown paper bag of shame over your head.
  • A mysterious port which you can not disable.   The router has NAT, but has a port authoriztion (TCP 4567) that is untouchable by the user.  This should be an automatic red flag that something is going on with an outside server, which Verizon will not allow you to turn off.  The port is known to be a point-of-access for Verizon to enter the router for their purposes.  They will call it customer support, but both the Actiontec and Westell boxes have been attacked and compromised on these ports. http://forums.verizon.com/t5/FiOS-Internet/Guy-accessed-remote-administration-port-4567-on-my-router-Thanks/td-p/241017

Despite all of this, I still have Verizon FIOS as my ISP provider.  As long as my router is the main entry point to the home network, I can manage and protect it as I need.  I do find the path that Verizon has taken with this architecture very concerning.  It would also not be completely fair to say that Verizon is definitely the only one doing this, but be aware of the implications of using the company provided equipment for your home network.