Thursday, October 30, 2014

The New Old World Order: Welcome to the State of Superstition

From our Halloween Specials series, but without ghosts.

Did the title The New Old World Order: Welcome to the State of Superstition elicit any emotional reaction on your part? Just checking how in touch you are with yourself.

We are pleased to see that the world is of full of miracles because this reinforces our long held belief that national boundaries have all but disappeared and humankind is living in the single, world-wide State of Superstition.***

We would be terminally boring if we gave you a list of miracles from the last two days reported in major newspapers around the world.

In just one German paper on a single day, we found:
The U.S. Fracking Miracle
The German Jobs Miracle
The Fall of the Iron Curtain Miracle

It's so obvious, yet so under reported, which is how the proponents of the New World Order (NWO) claim to see the world. They haven't noticed the State of Superstition because it is old and new at the same time. Maybe, or maybe because they plainly didn't pay attention.

Being a bit of a miracle worker myself, the blogster's attention instantaneously zooms in on any miracle reporting and has registered the uptick in miracles over a couple of decades.

The blogster will tell the story of its* miracle with all the modesty that behooves an internet publisher pseudonym.

This was not an ordinary miracle of the kind any pope can do, ours was a Miracle's Miracle, the kind even Scientology hasn't managed to buy yet.

In retrospect, the day of the Miracle's Miracle was auspicious. The three large trays of volunteer tomato plants from the yard miraculously fit into the old car, which miraculously started up, miraculously taking us from the abode (known to friends and family as the Hobbit Hole) to the location of the show. The show was a concert of Furthur. Miraculously early, we gave away the tomatoes, all 40 or 50, except one and ventured towards Shakedown Street, where the faithful gathered before a show, set up little stands to sell and buy stuff, meet friends and new friends and be jolly.  

A young man, a finger in the air as a sign of looking for a ticket (also known as a miracle) accosted us: do have a spare ticket?

No, but we have a tomato plant. Here, maybe you can exchange it for a ticket.

He took the plant and thanked us.

To any rational and logic-bound observer, this exchange would be absurd.

An hour or so later, having done the Shakedown Street thing, we joined the long procession towards the venue gates. And there he was, the young man holding the 3 inch tomato plant in front of his tie-dye clad chest. He took a few steps towards us, smiled and reached into his back pocket with his free hand.
Proudly holding up a ticket, he explained: It worked, I traded the plant for a ticket, and then they gave me back the plant.

See, that's how a Miracle's Miracle is supposed to work.

The fracking miracle, the jobs miracle, the election win** miracle, they are purely superstition, made up by people who do not see the difference between a state of wishful thinking and a world running on the laws of science.

Efforts to re-establish traditional borders, as concrete slabs or high tech cattle ranges, create hardship and conflict but they cannot erase that unified new old world order represented by the State of Superstition.

* Gender neutral, doing like the boss.
** That one may also be slick fraud.
*** Yeah, the flag issue. Still researching...

The vociferous vindictive viper & the minimum wage

So?

That's how TheEditor begins every single newroom conference.

I'd like to write something where I use the expression vociferous vindictive viper.

Why?

Why was TheEditor so monosyllabic that day, no one knows, and it* did not elaborate.

Because I keep writing posts with simple words and sentences, I'm worried one day I'll neither speak good English nor good German.

You worry about that now?

Also, when I woke up today, this was the first thing that came to my mind, and I can't get rid of it. Preparing the coffee, I found myself staring at the coffee machine, thinking how can I use vociferous vindictive viper to describe the process of coffee making.

Compare the American minimum wage to the German minimum wage.

OYG**, I mean OMG for atheists, you are so right, thank you.

Yeah.

TheEditor was right, simply be that vociferous vindictive viper, and I don't have to make any further effort.

Today's FAZ has an article about how American officials are doing a pilgrimage to Germany to learn about the current German jobs miracle. We'll get back to that but right now, the minimum wage comparison in the article beckons.

The German minimum wage at 8.50 euros is higher that the U.S. at 7.25 dollars (5.70 euros), and the Obama administration official likes that. [our translation]

That's hilarious.

Germany does not have a minimum wage.

They just passed a law to institute one, starting in 2015 for most sectors but leaving loopholes and gradual implementation for the most needy until 2017. Which is the next general election year.

Seattle, WA, must have separated from the U.S. and joined Canada in the last few months without us noticing it. How else could the article not mention their 15 dollars minimum wage.

What can you buy for this hugely attractive German minimum wage when your electricity costs about 40 U.S. cents a kilowatt, your gas over 8 dollars a gallon, your aspirin against the economic headaches some 8 dollars for 40 pills, your hydrogen peroxide for bleaching the worried-grey-hair to an acceptable labor market standard some 15 dollars a quart?

Even comparing apples and oranges makes more sense than comparing the German minimum wage to the U.S. federal minimum wage. Oh, orange juice? Same price as gasoline.

Pleased about the abundant use of vociferous vindictive viper things, yours truly.

* TheEditor went gender neutral a couple of years ago, and insists on it.
** Courtesy of Neil deGrasse Tyson, thank you.

[Update 5/17/2016] Grammar. At the rate we are going, most posts should pass basic grammar and spelling requirements by 2040.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Trick or Treat? -- Treat: 10 free Email Forwards for you

Once upon a time, there was a web site operator who had lots of unused email accounts left.....

We convinced the operator to give some away for free.

No trick, just a simple treat.

Call it Privacy Candy.

What you get:
One (1) email address with automatic forwarding, per person or entity. No mailbox to log in to, just forwarding.

What you need to do to get it:
Send an email to the address at the top of this page.
In the email, explain why you want a forwarding address.
This is not first come, first served. You need to state a prupose.
Be nice, be specific. This is not craigslist at two in the morning, okay?

What happens next:
We act as an intermediary only, so your request goes to the web site operators. The operators will get in touch with you or not.

About setting up a forward, and about your privacy:
Every email sent to the forwarding address will be forwarded to a recipient email address. If the site operators accepts your request, you will be asked to provide the address to forward to. This can be any valid email address.

Can the recipient reply to me?
The site operators will, at their discretion, enable a two way by setting up a return forward for you and your communication partner.

How safe are my data?
A forwarding email adds an additional level of obscurity to your communication.
The operators of the site are as trustworthy as they come. Ask them.
If they do not select you, your request and your email address will be deleted.
You will not hear from the again.

Why are they offering this again?
According to them, the grand idea is to get other web site operators to do the same. If you own a site and have unused email addresses, be generous. Start with friends and family if offering them to strangers worries you.

This is really free?
Free, as in no money, zip.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Butt shots for cars - the German freeway camera dragnet

Oh, they do that here, too? How' d you idiots find that out, sorry, how did my fellow team members find out? grumbled TheEditor.

We stumbled on a tweet by a lawyer.

Ah, I wish I had my Random Research* team back, but let's hear. And don't joke about photos taken from the rear only.

Scanners that snap a picture of every license plate and compare it to a database for stolen cars and outstanding warrants are being used on a large scale in a number of German states. The southern state of Bavaria seems to be the most prolific gatherer of plates, while others discontinued their dragnets after a 2005 German supreme court decision that ruled continuous unwarranted dragnets unconstitutional.

An excellent article (in German, with some information about U.S. practices in English) is on netzpolitik.org, which should be any Germany watchers' goto site for all things digital.

The article describes in detail how the northern state of Brandenburg, in former East Germany, justifies their dragnet almost a decade after the high court ruling.

All searches are done for a specific investigation, and any license plates that do not match the vehicles sought at the time are immediately deleted. [our translation]


Sounds pretty reasonable.

Another article about a court case in Bavaria contains the same statement: no hit means instant deletion of the data. However, the article about the court case contains another statement we found a little odd: Frequent travel on Bavarian freeways may increase the severity of sentences for some crimes, for example drug trafficking.

Somewhere further down in the netzpolitik article, they talk about a second mode of operation of license plate scanners. This mode is aptly called "recording mode", it simply records and stores plates. This is not done as part of an active investigation, no matching against vehicles involved in a crime is performed. Since drivers are not under suspicion, there is - according to state officials - no violation of rights.

The recorded data are kept for "later use".

The Bavarian system scans about 8 million plates a month, and the official error rate is given as between 40 000 and 50 000 incorrect reads or false positives versus, as the court itself says, "very few" positive investigative benefits.

What does it feel like to be one of those 40 000?

We do not know what the Germans do, but we have one example from the U.S. involving their standard toll gate cameras.

One day, the blogster receives a letter from the LA area. Your car, <correct license plate> used the toll road from City A to City B on date and time without paying the toll of 2 dollars.
They asked for a fine and followed it up with a friendly threatening note in case the blogster did not pay.

Did someone clone my plates? I was away for over a week, did someone steal the car, travel many hundreds of miles each way to Los Angels and put back? Call to the police.
Oh, just call the agency and tell them. A call to the agency, just send a letter, we'll verify the license plate.

The letter was sent, and that was the last of it.

A simple solution to these woes: every time the government or a company reads a license plate, it has to notify the owner.

If this solution sounds too simple, just contact your congress person or whatever they call the equivalent in your non-U.S. country.

While you wait for progress in transparency, here is a quick description of Operation Paper Moon, a surveillance art project.

Cardboard cutouts that moon a camera can be fun to make and can brighten up the boring task of sifting through tens of thousands of errors.
When you prepare a paper moon, don't make it too big - you don't want to get a ticket for obstructing the rear view.
You can experiment with male moons, too, add enough hair. Let your inspiration guide you, and don't be too shy. After all, why do you think do American security guards look forward to the night shift?
Not because of the peace and quiet that allows you to finish a term paper for the college class in the morning but because of interesting things taking place on the building's back entrance.

For the less artistically inclined, you may want to get an infrared sensor (the cameras use infrared flashes like all good hunters' game cameras), record camera locations and send the information to you local misguided idealist freedomy folks. In Germany, that would be netzpolitik.org.

* The Random Research team, RR for short did research for the K-Landnews. Until they researched compensation for work, found that people get paid for that and split.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Have terrorists discovered Google AdSense & link sharing yet?

From our Halloween Specials series

Ever since the first post on this blog almost two years ago, we have tried to find a really story.

And failed.

We made fun of scary German drivers and ghosts on the freeway, we jabbed at Facebook after an account, dormant since the week after the FB was launched, sprang back to life with friend requests.
It happened around Halloween, of all times during the year. Facebook exorcized the zombie, and then we did the same to the FB.

Our quest to finally out-paranoia the paranoid was difficult enough. Something to do with hacking, we pondered?
Pacemakers - hacked
Cars - hacked
Toasters - hacked
iPhone & Android & MS Windows - just walk in in the front door
spaceship - oh, wait, but f@@k, we are no rocket scientists, so we could not write a credible scary what-if story about spaceships

To add another layer of fun, we wanted to come up with something to feed the paranoia regarding Google in the zombified German print publishing business.

Then it dawned on us. What if terrorists used the harmless looking, maybe sometimes a little annoying feature of "link sharing" to raise money?

Selling natural organic beauty products on some utterly innocuous web site like a weather site? Or garden equipment on a site about gardening in Afghanistan?

And then the pinnacle of terror, imagine some sneaky Somali pirates set up a site that aggregates German news. Then the pirates put a bunch of ads on the site, not just for marine supplies, but for cat food and baby products, Halloween costumes and car parts, and wait for the cash to roll in. The German press will notice and send them a contract for royalties on text snippets.
The sneaky pirates would sign the contract and send the agreed upon share of revenues to the German media companies.
The rest of the dough would go to whatever terrorists need money for.

All of a sudden, you can see armies of terrorist sympathizers in their unheated basement flats and apartments clicking on ads like crazy, and without their knowledge, the German print publishers would be involved in bad business without being able to blame Google.

More recently, in-game purchases in apps, mostly games, have become popular, with potentially far-reaching consequences, too. What if another band of Somali pirates produced such a game, and children all over the planet spent their parents' money without ever knowing its evil destination.

Antiques, oil, slaves, drugs -- quaintly outmoded ways to finance terrorism.

There you have it.

Disclaimer: In case you hit this post from Facebook, any search engine, or the Fear Inc. HQ, we would like to remind you that you are reading satire.

From Steganography to Staganography -- hiding text in nudie pics

From our Creative Visual Arts series

First off, an apology. The latest tweet of TheEditor told our readers that analyzing the images to be used in the post was taking longer than expected.

We hit a snag.

We noticed the intern was doing the job manually and had worked up quite a sweat. This triggered our Ebola quarantine protocol, which we took from an interweb article that described how the governor of New Jersey pitched a tent for a nurse.*

Long story short, there won't be sample photos attached to this post.

There is a wide variety of web sites where you can get nudie pics free for non-commercial use, maybe [it really has what the name implies, unlike most web sites] yourdicklooksgreatinthoseheels dot com is a good start.

In addition to nudie pics, you need a hiding tool, for example the one we described in this earlier post.

In the two earlier posts about hiding text and photos inside photos, we had a specific target audience, grandma.

During a recent editorial conference of the multiple personalities at the K-Landnews, someone complained about this limited audience, so we decided to add a post for the younger generation, specifically our uncle Sam and aunt Marianne.

Halloween is a great opportunity to try out your new staganography** communication.
If you get a substantial collection, maybe a museum will do an exhibit one of these days.

For the privacy minded, you can, of course, encrypt the pictures before sending them. However, if you do this, you might deprive an intelligence analyst somewhere of a bright moment in a tedious work day. 

A couple more tips for image choices.

Image selection should take into account the impression you would like to make on a human analyst if your steganographic picture ever gets this extreme level of attention.

As a resident of, say, China, you might want to use carrier images that show all the glory and achievement of the wonderful, caring party. As an American, you have a wide selection of patriotic themed free photos to choose from on the web.

Your work could inform image choices, such as gorgeous Hubble space telescope photos, fashion pics, meals, construction equipment and so on.

Or take some related to a hobby. You won't believe how many royalty free photos of wide mouth bass are out there.

One more word on nudes or outright porn: make sure any such images are legal under the domestic laws of your country.

Enjoy, and don't forget, if enough people do this, many an intelligence analyst will sooner or later be asked by friends and family how much porn they watched that day in the name of keeping us all safe.


* Note: We hear he didn't pitch it himself. He's, like, a big guy and had the tent pitched by experts.

** Made up from "stag", "steganography" & "pornography".  We have not tm-d or copyrighted the term, you can freely use it. The male "stag" is used because most IT guys are, well, guys, and we couldn't figure out a gender neutral funny term.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Comedy by numbers and comedy with numbers

You'll need to wait a few days before you get the post Staganography (thar's a low ball composite of Stag and Steganography, the first having to do with nudies, the latter with hiding text in pictures).

No, you did not miss the announcement of a Staganography post, this is the first time we mention it.

Today, however, we write about the much more urgent topic of the role of numbers, or figures, in comedy and satire. We claim expertise in this area, while at the same time frustrating any inquiry into the reason for claiming expert status.

But we give you our reasoning for frustrating the inquiry.

One: we believe our readers are intelligent. If we do a good job, they will agree. If we fail, we have only ourselves to blame.
Two: if we have to wield a thesis or a prior publication in order to gain credibility, we regard it as a failure.

Here are the premises for the post:
Numbers are used in comedy, fine. Comedy is not an exact science, so you are not bound by the wonderful rules of mathematics.

So, what can go wrong?

Everything, thanks to Mr. Murphy. Where Mr. Murphy just so happens to represent the ultimate Irishman of comedic devices.

It may be hard to see why the use of numbers can be dangerous in an area that uses hyperbole and overstatement all the time. If a number is big, it can be great comedy to make it huge.
Or understate it, make it small or tiny.

The secret lies in context (or butt of the joke) and scope.

Example 1:
I am so lucky to have such a huge number of friends, so here is a shout out to to all two of them, Angie and John.
The speaker is the context, the scope the popularity measured in the number of friends. Self deprecating, good fun, nobody gets hurt.

Example 2:
I was in Dublin, Ireland, at the St. Paddy's Day Parade. It featured an overflight by the Irish Air Force [pause], all four of their planes.
Now, try the same with Moscow.
I was in Moscow, Russia at the Independence Day Parade. It featured an overflight by the Russian Air Force [pause], all four of their planes.

The context: a country's air force. The Irish scope: Ireland is small, a small military is expected, the joke is generally perceived as good natured fun.
The Russian scope: expected to be big, scary, powerful, the number 4 has a lot mire punch.

Example 3:
I was in Dublin, Ireland, and visited the big National Library in Dublin Castle. I sat down, unpacked my thermos and started reading. I did not stop until I had finished reading every single book, all four of them.
The context: a library. The scope: the whole cultural heritage of a country over many centuries. This one will hurt, tempered a little by the obviously hyperbolic number of four books, which nobody will mistake as the correct number.

If you cannot resist comparing the Dublin library to the Library of Congress, ditch absolute numbers.

Example 4:
A German Muslim files a complaint against German comedian Dieter Nuhr, alleging "hate speech" with regard to statements about Islam. Largely unfamiliar with the comedian other than for some snippets we did not find original or funny, we did a Youtube marathon.
All the usual stuff we have seen a decade ago in U.S. comedy is there, including the 72 virgins, beards, suicide bombers, etc.
It's pretty tired, nothing remotely rivaling the Daily Show, Colbert, or Jeff Dunham's Achmed the terrorist puppet.

But then we got to numbers. In this video in German, starting at minute 10:35, he states that the whole Arab world publishes 350 books a year and that the number of patents combined is under 20 per year.

A cursory look at patent numbers, here, and book numbers here shows his numbers to be wrong. The problem is that Mr. Nuhr presents them as facts.

Had he used relative figures, invoking "comedic privilege", it would be okay. Something along the lines of "the West publishes hundreds of times more books per year than the Arab world" would have been okay.

Had he used our example figure 4 from the Dublin joke, we would have found it unfair but within license.

Using the numbers he did with the tone and type of delivery he used in the video, is just bad.

The Germans have a narrower view of "freedom of speech" than the U.S., but we hope the German authorities will throw out the hate speech claim.

We at the K-Landnews do feel vindicated in our earlier estimation of the overall quality of his work: it feeds the man but is not top notch satire.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Encounter with the Ex -- an old flame on Twitter

Or Facebook, Ello, MySpace, Diaspora, Xing, LinkedIn, Weibo, a random web site.

We were tempted to make this a Halloween Special, but it could be misunderstood, although the chances that the old flame visits this specific blog, gets to this specific posting and recognizes herself here are miniscule.

It makes little difference whether you google someone or whether that person magically appears in a reference or a follow list. It does make a huge difference if he or she features prominently in an article, another unlikely occurrence, unless something very bad or very good happens.

Do we need a strategy for that day?

Of course. Modern humans are supposed to have a strategy for ever conceivable event in their lives. This poses a problem to simple minded critters like yours truly. Not conceiving of future events is a viable solution, but terminally boring.

A decade or so of strategic thinking got me a strategy that works, and once I had it, I began to see patterns in the lives of others, from the question what to have for breakfast to major international speeches.

The grand unified strategy for everything is the pretend strategy. You pretend to have a strategy, and the strategy itself consists of pretending. The blogster's mood soured a little upon realizing that it had been done before. Douglas Adams' answer to everything suspiciously looks like a numeric version of it. The answer is 42.

The bible does the same. The answer is God.
Although the guys who wrote it wobbled throughout their narrative. They tried the concept of the trinity, but then settled ultimately for the unified God.

Knowing itself* in the good company of Douglas Adams and the Bible, the blogster felt confident to be able to handle that inevitable social media phenomenon of The Encounter with the Ex.

A photo of the old flame appeared on the screen.

Before the new computer had even finished rendering the image - like, in no time at all - the pretend strategy showed its worth.

Zero, zilch.

Swept away by memories of days and nights, by scents, by laughter, by hurt, by the tickling of the cold morning breeze on the jog out in Napa Valley, by the surprisingly insecure first kiss at a red traffic light [a good way to pass the wait time].

The smell of sulfur.

No, this was not an omen of what was to come, it was the smell of burnt matches in the bathroom. Not from hiding to smoke in the bathroom either. Masking a human smell with the awfully pungent smell of sulfur in a tiny space -- in a way, it was a statement beyond that stated purpose.

Caught up, lost. Smart, unforgiving.

A wish you well thought, then a single click, and she is gone. 

Maybe pretending works for some people, it has never worked for the blogster since the loss of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and Jesus (in that order).

So, when you come across and old flame, be cool, be grateful, and go your own way.

* Here is the blogster trying again to emulate the gender neutral style of TheEditor.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Missing an adventure as a lemon agent

From our Halloween Specials series

Opportunity knocks, they say. It must be an old idiom, from the days when opportunity came to your front door.

In more recent times, opportunity may announce itself with an "oh, oh" custom email notification sound. Or, it may be there with you, quietly, not saying anything, not knocking or otherwise alerting you.

And when opportunity presents itself, you have to accomplish two things, first, recognize it, second seize it.

The blogster has been rather proud of the ability to seize things. It is incredibly good for the ego when you save a damsel in distress at the grocery store checkout counter. Say, you stand there looking at nothing when, in the corner of the eye, you notice a wine bottle right right beyond the customer divider tilt, staring to fall because the belt jerked, and proud you bends and snags the bottle out of the air halfway down. You stand up nonchalantly, place the bottle onto the conveyor, in the middle, then you smile at the owner as if you perform stunts like this every day.

Recognizing things is different, more haphazard, in particular if your brain likes rearranging information in order to present you with multiple interpretations.
The obvious drawback, on the job and in the rest of your life, is the fatal appearance of slowness, or downright sluggishness.

But I'm thinking really hard doesn't fly after first grade.

There is a bright side to that, too. For instance, it may be a factor in avoiding, say, STDs.

Some adventures you miss due to slow recognition of an opportunity are likely not as cool as commonly believed.

Take this example:
Heathrow Airport, arrival gate, you step out, looking around to get the lay of the land.
A man in an ill fitting suit, aka. a driver, steps in front of you: Mr. Z from Frankfurt for the Israeli*** embassy?
Now, that's an opportunity!
You smile, say, No, he says Sorry, and you continue to check for the connecting flight.
Some quick thinking and a desire for adventure would have lead to a very different outcome.
You smile, say, Hi, how are you, he says something like Welcome, this way please.

Imagine the possibilities! **

So, imagine the pickup had been for an agricultural specialist sent to London to negotiate a new lemon and related citrus fruit contract with a major British grocery chain. It is a thought experiment, we have no idea, for instance, if embassies have to do with lemons and other citrus fruit. For all we know it could be lemons only, or lime only.

So, you'll never know if you missed the opportunity to become a famous lemon broker -- all because you were a tad slow recognizing an opportunity. Or, it could have become a disaster, making you the laughing stock of the lemon trade.

Years later, you might get the opportunity to write a post about lemons, who knows.

** When asked for your name, do not say Walter Mitty.
*** We wanted to say Icelandic embassy but remembered just in time that the Icelandic citrus industry is still in its infancy.

The Shop Vac - works where Angels fear to tread

Note: The title does not refer to people named Angel, male, female, in-between [wink]. Hence, it does not imply you are fearful or lazy.

Another note: Our machine is not a ShopVac (r), but we'd be happy to get a freebee. Ours just sucks or blows.

There is an incredible amount of fun to be had with a shop vacuum!

And no, not the fun that hurts or gets you to the ER.

The latest episode of fun with a shop vac includes the vac, a garden hose, and masking tape.

Oh, really? Come on!

Every self respecting rural dweller needs a wood stove, right? So, our second big purchase in the K-Land was a stove/oven combination.

Pretty as can be, and heavy as fuck. Four people to get it into the kitchen. The quality of the heat from a wood stove is so far superior to the crappy warm air off of central heating radiators, it makes you wonder why it took a green movement to fuel the comeback of the wood stove.

One reason could be it needs to be cleaned. The ashes need to come out every other day or so. But ashes are extremely useful. Wood ash, not the poison from coal.
You can make your own soap, for instance or as a cleaner by itself.

Then there is the stove pipe. In a modern house, builders have wised up and use "shorties", a couple of feet long, easy to remove, clean and put back.

In an old house, you'll find the familiar long pipe going up almost to the ceiling, then into the chimney.
In an even older house, you get two bends because, well, because...

It's a little more work, but nothing compared to the innards of the stove. We lifted the small inspection piece in the top cast iron assembly and scooped some of the debris out.
We got our vac, put on the tapered tip, sucked, got a little more.

Read the manual.

A real man does not read manuals. Ever.

Read the manual, or should we talk about what being a real man means?

Where's the manual?

It was bad. Worse even than a Nespresso coffee machine crushing off brand capsules.
On the upside, the wood stove does not come with a series of electronic lights to alert you to clean it or indicate a malfunction.
Remember this post when the local government makes you install a gimmick that prevents your stove to run on a Spare The Air Day! We told you so!
And the DeLuxe version of that gimmick will be forced on repeat offenders. It will automatically shackle you to the stove when you touch it on a Spare The Air Day and call the cops. No way you are able to make off with a 500 pound cast iron stove in tow.

The manual for our stove pretty much called for dismantling the whole upper part, including both doors to access the space around the oven part.
The exhaust fumes need to swirl around the oven part, that's how it works. And ash will fill up that space, rendering the oven useless.

We decided against heavy engineering in the kitchen and continued to scoop as much as we could.

Fast forward a few years:

I can't get it in.

Gentle, move it a little bit at a time.

It's not long enough.

You said it was longer than others.

I feel inadequate.

Don't worry, it happens to everybody.

Ah...

We can try again tomorrow.

Thus, the Shop Vac FlexTender was born. Five feet of old 1/4 inch garden hose, and 20 inches of masking tape later, the short rigid adapter of the standard wide hose sported a thin hose affixed with masking tape.

Real men can use duct tape instead, works just as well.

The light bulb moment over, the blogster did what it* does best: suck and blow.

When the vacuum motor noise went from rumble to high pitch, indicating the intake was blocked, a quick yank and stub loosened the blockage, and the happy sucking went on for an hour.

A whole vac full of gunk came out of the stove.

As satisfying as the deep cleaning was the fact that the blogster did not look like a Dickensian chimney sweep.

Next year, maybe I'll do the job in a black tie outfit.

The thin hose attachment makes so much sense and can be used for a million other jobs around the house. Next time a hole needs drilling into the old walls, the tip of the hose will be taped to the drill.

The stone dust will be evacuated directly, instead of settling in my nose and then being pried out.

Don't forget: the small hose is ideal for blowing up balloons!

* The blogster decided today was a good time to try an be completely gender neutral like our boss, TheEditor. Feels weird.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Outhouse

I need to go to the outhouse.

Put on your shoes, it's raining.

The girl, a skinny ten year old country girl, slipped on a pair of hand me down shoes, and left through the side door, the door from the kitchen to the yard and the stable of the old farm. She covered the thirty or so yards to the outhouse running and - as children often do - ducking in the rain, as if ducking will somehow get you less wet.

There was no electricity in the outhouse, so she left the door slightly ajar to get some of the moonlight to illuminate the stack of torn up newspapers recycled as toilet paper.

She heard the low familiar hum above in the dark.

The next thing she heard was the voice of a stranger: She is waking up.

At least that's what she remembered of the night in the Fall of 1944.

The night that put her into a wheelchair for the rest of her life, both legs gone from about one third of the thighs down.

The doctors in the small town hospital where they took her, really not expecting to see her live, had managed to save her at the cost of cutting off the mangled legs. The Catholic sisters who ran the hospital said something about prayers answered, talked about her being a child one moment and waking up as an adult.

She was there as the lives of her siblings unfolded, as they finished school, got married, as some moved away. She was extremely nice to the children of her siblings when they were introduced to her for the first time, standing by the wheelchair, wondering.

She died several years ago.

Why remember her now?

Maybe because it is Fall, the nights are getting awfully long up here at 50+ degrees north. They are the kind of nights on which news reports about bombs and bullets killing children in countries around the world may seem more immediate and significant.

Why her story and not any other? From a more recent war, from a bombed school, from....?

A bomb left over from a bombing run, dropped on what was the way home for the planes.

On an outhouse.

I think, I may have seen a hint of the mischievous ten year old in the eyes of the old woman in the wheelchair.

Or it may have been my imagination running wild.

The Day of the Dead is coming up. 

This atheist will raucously celebrate Halloween and silently commemorate the dead.

A simple electronic Dead Drop: "Eff Metadata"

From our series Halloween Week Specials***

Quote of the day: Freedom sometimes tastes like a pumpkin left out just a wee bit too long after Halloween. ****

Blame this one on TheEditor coming back from its* once-every-decade watching of the movie Enemy of the State.

All of this anti-surveillance crap is too complicated! You need to make like Dave, and keep it simple!

But we don't ever need to hide, why bother?

Because Enemy of the State is a documentary disguised as fiction, you idiots. Pardon my French, scrap the you idiots, use team instead.

Listen to the master, and be awed. Remember General Dave and his liaison, they communicated via the Drafts folder of GMail. Both had the password, and they'd go and write their love emails without sending them. That's pretty simple. Now, once the other lady snitched, our protectors looked at the GMail account and the locations associated with logins and wondered.

Oh.

They wondered if a hero like General Dave managed to be in two locations thousands of miles apart within hours or sometimes minutes. That skill would have revolutionized warfare, but it was discarded because the idea that a man would write love letters to himself was too bizarre. I have been working on a better mousetrap. Let me explain, and I will use Bob and Alice because thinking of a fallen hero is too painful.

[nods, sound of shifting chairs]

Bob wants to send a message to Alice. As you...team... know by now, that creates a lot of metadata in addition to the fact that Alice's email address travels with the message. Enemy of the State gave me the idea to come up with a convenient dead drop. Bob puts the message somewhere, and Alice picks it up.

Ahm, boss, we talked about SecureDrop the other day?

I am not trying to outdo SecureDrop, for Aaron's sake. My solution is a bit less secure but a lot easier, a tradeoff, hear me out. Say, Bob is Alice's uncle, he lives in Iowa and is good at farming but less sure footed with computers. Alice, lives in New York as a graphic artist. She is good with computers but has a hard time making ends meet, and she can't work as a bartender because she hates the company of drunks. Every other month, Bob sends Alice an encouraging note, usually bible verses, but he does not want anybody to know, and Alice is somewhat embarrassed that she needs bible verses to see her through.

[hand covers mouth, hiding yawn]

So, ...team, here is the setup. Alice goes to her favorite blogging platform and sets up a blog. She picks a platform which has a "Comment" feature that does not require an account. Alice also makes sure that the blogging platform has "moderated" comments. It's standard these days, but this is the key to the bible verses. Alice puts a few content items on the blog and gives uncle Bob the https address of the blog when she visits Iowa for Halloween.

[tip of one foot going up and down, up and down]

Uncle Bob looks up a bible verse, goes to any of the posts on Alice's blog, pastes the verse into the comment box, done. Alice will receive an email not from Uncle Bob but from the blog server postmaster. Alice reads the comment awaiting moderation, then clicks "Do not publish" or the equivalent on her platform. Comments? [chuckle]

You could correlate Bob's visit to the web site with the web site owner, so you still have metadata.

Sure, but that analysis is not done routinely. It already beats the General and the Gmail account. If Alice's blogging platform is also an email provider, the bible verses "comments" email never leaves the hosting company.

Not very realistic, though.

Wait. Alice gets a great job in China, a one year contract at Panda Corp., and now Uncle Bob can continue to send bible verses even though the Chinese don't like it one bit.

But boss, isn't the Comments feature pretty much the same as a web form Contact Us feature? And won't Comments land in the database of the site?

They serve different purposes. A free blogging site does not give every blogger a Contact Us form. And yes, they may land in the database, but European or US providers don't care about bible quotes. You can use a plain text split based on the encrypted split described in this post. Sure, you need to turn off the Spam filter of the site, if they have one.

What's your take on using TOR, too?

If you want your bible verses even less traceable, TOR or a bog standard VPN are a good idea. I'd suggest that only one party, only Bob or Alice use such a service for that specific communication. But, remember, the less you stand out from the unwashed masses, the better. If Shakespeare were alive today and published under a well-guarded pseudonym on some web site, nobody might notice.

If you paste an encrypted message into the Comments and it does not go through?

Just test it out. If you cannot find a suitable blogging site, Alice can set up her own website and have a form named Comments. There is a lot of flexibility in this dead drop. You can, for example send the other party a link to a Pastebin or the latest Dilbert comic strips.

This can be used to bad ends, too, what would you say to critics?

Are rocks banned?

[puzzled looks]

David got Goliath with a rock, so sure, ban rocks if you feel like it.

Can we borrow your Enemy of the State DVD?

After Halloween, sure.

* TheEditor insists on gender neutrality, hence the form "it".
** Eff is not the same as EFF. EFF is the acronym for Electronic Frontier Foundation, the good guys. Eff may be good or not, depending on your taste.
*** Please remember, we do satire, which, by its nature, messes with perceived wisdom.
**** Who came up with that nonsense? Somebody must have.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

EasyPhD - the German way

In the English speaking media, there is rarely a ripple when another German politician is embroiled in a row over his or her PhD.

The most high-profile plagiarism scandal, meaning forgetting to quote large portions of works done by others, dates a couple of years back and involved government secretaries. Another, smaller one, was about a party chief who got himself a "mini"-PhD in a neighboring country and then plastered the German Dr. title all over his credentials.

Why are German career politicians so eager to wrap themselves in a PhD?

Simply put, because it is worth its weight in gold within the German system. It is next to inconceivable for Germans to not put their Dr. (which is used for MD, JD, VD. PhD, and so on) on their passports, ID cards, driver licenses, and underwater basket weaving certificates.

The allure and the incentives are there, the only problem is, obtaining an honest PhD is hard work.

That tends to interfere, some appear to believe, with the party career, with the backroom deal sessions and the hobnobbing with the party grandees.

How, then do you reconcile these conflicting demands?

We checked and found a few pointers:
1) Same school as your dad or siblings. If your parents, mostly the father in case of the traditional German political parties, is somewhere above mid-ranking officialdom, he has friends in academia, and you'll get a PhD. You can still get caught, though, as happened to the daughter of a party chairman.

2) If daddy has no friend who will discover your superior intellect, just pick an easy PhD subject.

You would not believe the number of German politicians whose PhD is about the development of their party's youth organization in the ten or twenty years preceding the PhD. One of those guys made it all the way to Chancellor (the equivalent to our U.S. president job).
Since these politicians work on the history of their own party, does this indicate an absence of scientific curiosity?
No, they are curious to find out how little work it needs to get the framed seal for the office.

Other thesis topics which the blogster has correlated with strongly party focused people are overly broad "dead horse" subjects, such as a comparison of the German constitution to the U.S. constitution.
Then there are fields perceived to be new, which usually applies when politicians talk about tremendous changes in society which happened at least two decades ago. For instance, German chancellor Merkel referred to the internet as "new territory" in early 2014. So, any legal JD thesis on the vagaries and uncertainties of a particular internet aspect is a breeze.

These simple steps should get you a PhD in no time and a great career in public life afterwards.

Just to illustrate how cynical the blogster has become in a few short years, in the last election, one candidate sported a"Dr."

Vote Dr. YouLikeMe!

OMG. What did that one write about, and how many trees were sacrificed in the process?

Turns out, we were looking at a real medical doctor, one who even had worked in his field before going into politics.

One more thing:
Just as we were set to hit "Publish", we did a quick check of today's German papers and found a pretty devastating article about the treatment of young scientists and doctoral candidates at Germany's flagship Max Plank Gesellschaft facilities.

[Update 10/23] Added sentence: So, any legal JD thesis on the vagaries and uncertainties of a particular internet aspect is a breeze.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Excited about the new sister?

Excitement about a new sibling is a constant across cultures and times.

So, does it make much of a difference how long it takes between the birth of a sibling and his or her introduction to the family?

It certainly does if that period of time spans decades, thirty or forty years, or even more.

Remember Jim, Harvey's son? *

Sure, do you have news from him, how is he?

I met him last year at an event, and he told me his mom had passed.

Oh, I knew her, she was a great woman, lively, helpful. She must have been in her seventies, right?

Seventy six or so, the cigarettes finally caught up with her, lung cancer, only a couple of weeks between diagnosis and her death.

Bummer.

Yes, but then something happened. Several weeks after her passing, the telephone rang in Jim's office. A woman was at the other end, she asked are you Jim Tally? He said, yes, and she said, well, I am your younger half sister Barbara.

What?

He was incredulous but she explained and all of a sudden, that odd one year earlier in his mom's life made perfect sense.

You mean, when she left Wichita to work in Omaha for a year while Ben was deployed overseas?

Exactly. She had just started at Sears when Ben was shipped out to war, and then she moved to Omaha for a year, that was the year Jim's sister was born. She left a few weeks after she realized she got pregnant, and grandma took care of Jim during that time, he was about four years old or so, old enough to remember the absence.

There's some hard explaining to do, first your dad goes to war, and shortly after, your mom leaves you. They told him that Sears had an advanced training program in Omaha and his mother had been selected as one twenty employees out of over a thousand applicants.

She gave the baby up for adoption?

Yes, came back, resumed her life, Ben came back from war, and they carried on as you have known them.

And Jim?

He was curious, of course, a bit worried. Upset, too, because he spent her last weeks on the side of his mom, and she did not tell him even on her deathbed. That hurt, he said, because everybody else is long dead. His grandma, of course, then Ben died about ten years ago, now his mom, only one uncle left, that's it.

The sister, how did she find out her mother had died?

From what she said, her mother did get in touch with her adoptive parents when she was an adult, and the adoptive parents brokered a re-union. Having promised the mother to not contact other family members, the mother did stay in touch, even visited once or twice a year.

That sounds nice, actually. Not your standard adopting out and cutting all ties.

Yes, and that certainly required some effort and, well, it does show she was a great woman, in a way, doesn't it?  Who knows, maybe she had planned to tell Jim but couldn't, we'll never know.

How's he doing now?

He is happy, said, hey I got myself one new sister and two nephews in just one telephone call.

Wasn't he wondering if there might be more secrets?

Briefly, but what can you do?

* We have changed all names and locations.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Let me see if I understand this correctly...

Fresh off of the cat posting, let's talk inter-mammal workplace relations.

In case you wonder if there is some deeper meaning in yesterday's cat posting, we can neither confirm nor deny that you read it to mean that a feral yard cat can exhibit more empathy and kindness than the majority of mammals currently in charge of the planet. 

Of all the strategies, which in reality are merely tactics, of dealing with obnoxious co-workers or bosses, one of our all time favorites is the use of Let me see if I understand this correctly...

The blogster has used it in place of the slightly more honest "Look, you moron..."

The number of argumentative co-peeps at work has astounded the blogster from day one, which was somewhere around age sixteen.

The capacity of intelligent workers to set aside all logic in their pursuit of personal animosity outstrips their professional achievement more often than not. We are not offering an example, you will have seen some around you.

If you have not, ask yourself if you are lucky to have such a great workplace and wonderful co-workers.

If you answer this question with no, go back to the start of the paragraph "The capacity of intelligent workers...." and try again.

Anyhow, the number of web sites and self help books on conflict management are legion, but you can hardly look up advice in McFeelgood's Seven habitats of the healthy worker every single time there is a clash.

A handful of tools is what most of us, especially the blogster, can muster at any given moment.

Let me see if I understand this correctly... is one which has put out the flames of resentment more than once when a nonsensical request or a dumb order (usually also masking as a request) popped up.

Lead in your response with Let me see if I understand this correctly..., then state your perception and views

A simple example could look like this. Say, you are purchasing toilet paper from a group of different contractors. Every few months or so, you ask for new estimates based on your changing bulk supply needs. In the run-up to Christmas, you employ more people, hence, a lot more shit goes down. Departments report their forecasts to you, you turn them into one easy number, that's it. Okay?
Then, one day, your boss wants you to email him the details for each department before you ask for tender.
You remind him that the details are stored on the sever CrumpleFold and the links to the documents are in the purchase order system's comment field. He knows that.

He lobs the magic word "insubordination" at you.

You go: Let me see if I understand this correctly, you know the links are in the PO system, you have access to it, and you have used the links in the past without problems. This makes me wonder why we need an additional step, which sort of defeats process streamlining.

This way, you hold up a mirror, you listen, and you offer him a way out. The clause "if I understand correctly" provides him with the opportunity to tell you that you don't grasp the reason or sense of the request.
It also invites him to re-phrase it -- after all, if a subordinate or colleague fails to understand something, you try again, right?

Another example: A colleague emails you a question, you answer it, he gets his task done and thanks you.
The colleague's request was mundane, nothing to it. Having the same pay grade and - on paper - the same skills as you, the co-worker should have known this but it is no big deal. Maybe he had a bad day.
A day later, you get an email from the manager of your boss: "In the future, please go through channels with any requests for assistance."

This reaction can be a huge red flag, and there is no golden rule on how you should react in turn.
Why would this manager send out this email to you and, of course, your immediate manager? It is conceivable that he is trying to build a case for dismissal of that co-worker, isn't it?
On the other hand, you did not blab about the initial request, so the co-worker himself must have told his manager, or even the manic mailer, which indicates that the co-worker does not feel under threat or is covering his ass.

Next time you meet the boss of your boss, you could do a Let me see if I understand this correctly... 
Your counterpart surely has used the standard "team" and "help each other" boilerplates previously? Use them. Then add a carrot, along the lines of "I planned to add an entry in the knowledge base", or "I find it helpful to get an idea of the problems we face on a daily base".

If the man merely repeats the go through proper channels line, congratulations, you have a second tier manager who will ensure that his seat is safe and through you and others under the bus as needed.

Do not overuse Let me see if I understand this correctly... because in starting every other conversation with it, you provide a vicious co-worker with a line of attack on your intelligence and job skills: this guy always has to ask for clarification, what's wrong with him.

However, you should be out of that department and have a new job before it gets to this level of fun.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Cat who Walked through Doors

The two cats had lived in the yard all their lives, three years at the time of the incident.

Except for two weeks after we caught them when they were about six months, got them spayed and neutered and had them recover in the house, their life had been outside.
They came and said hello, accepted a few minutes of lap time when we were in the yard but that was about the extent of the interaction.

The male, Eenie, was quiet and more solitary than the smaller black female, Mo.  So, Eenie was nicknamed The Cowboy cat. He did, however, spend many hot summer days at the bathroom window. Eenie was lying on the outside window sill, his brother Tigger, whom we had kept inside after the recovery from the trip to the SPCA would be on the inside window sill.
Separated by the fly screen, the two would sleep there back to back, or they would chat. There is no good other way to describe the conversation, the exchange of soft, short phrases, in a back and forth so oddly flowing like a human conversation that we used to stand in the bathroom door to listen in.
After the first year, Eenie started limping, Mo told us that something was wrong with him. Which we did not understand, of course, because he was just sitting still in the sun. A few days after she started acting strangely, he moved. The limp was obvious, so he got picked up, spirited to the vet, and the problem with his femur was fixed. After two weeks in the bathroom, we let him out, and all returned to normal.

So, for a continuous period of two years, Eenie had been outside, with Mo for total of four years.

Then Mo disappeared.

A week later, she is in the yard, meowing pitifully, sitting on her hind legs, unable to use her front legs.

Long story short, she ends up in a cage with both front paws out of commission. Bandaged, sedated daily, she started healing.

Eenie was his usual self, coming to say hi, busy evading racoons and possums, hunting a mouse when one showed up.

One night, after a few minutes of time with Eeenie, the blogster got up to go into the house.

This was the signal for Eenie to head in the opposite direction into the yard.

But he did not.

He walked to the door with the human.

As the human reached for the door knob, Eenie looked up and uttered a brief, questioning meow.

You want to go in?

Meow.

Okay.

The human opened the door, the cat walked in.

Surprised, the human followed. Eenie was sitting right next to the small cage of his sister, their noses touching, small sounds bouncing back and forth between them.

Fascinated, we silently watched.

After a few minutes, Eenie turned to the humans, then turned around and walked to the door. The blogster got up, opened the door for the cat, and the cat left with a tiny "thank you" meow (aka. the rolled R meow).

The strangeness of it all was reinforced the subsequent day, and - in fact - for as long as Mo needed to stay confined.

Once a day, her brother came in, went straight to the cage to check in on her, turned around and went outside. One night, it rained, he stayed until the rain stopped. Then he started hanging out with the two house cats. After a couple of weeks, he'd stay to watch TV if something interesting was running on the Discovery Channel.





Cut messages into slices, Part II

Disclaimer: No disclaimer for this one.

The K-Landnews TheEditor is still chuckling at the suggestion that Apple and Google enabling device encryption by default is being sold to the public as potentially putting some people "above the law".

So, we decided to be nice and indulge it* by telling our readers a bit more about yesterday's conversation.

[TheEditor] Who the f@@k has any sense left? You have been able to encrypt your tablet or smart phone for years, doesn't anybody bother to look at the Settings? In Android, they warn you that, if you lose the password after encrypting the device, no one can access the contents. All of a sudden, having that enabled by default is such a big deal?

Please...

Please indeed, bunch of cowards!

Can we talk about the slices, please?

What about it?

We should tell our readers more about how stuff is stored on devices.

Go ahead, then, leave me out of it, I need to sit back and enjoy the fact that iPhonies get prominent mention in the same breath as pedophiles and terrorists. I mean, the boss constantly wielding his iPhone at work, I can see how that terrorizes folks, and I once had a manager who behaved as if he was above the law.

As a matter of fact, the concept of slices is everywhere in computing. Pretty much every cool high level programming language has some in-built function for slicing strings (which is really only a fancy name for a piece of text plus, some non-alphabet stuff).

That function map be called slice, or split, and there is a corresponding join, too.

Even deeper, slices of data have been with us since the dawn of data storage, except that they are more familiar to you as sectors or blocks on the old floppy, the hard disk, or the flashy flash memory. When you save a file, it is broken up into slices (blocks), when you retrieve it from disk, blocks are read, re-assembled, and, voila, you have what looks like a continuous file!

Those wonderfully scary databases that are the backbone of storing Big Data stuff are nothing other than a layer of slices on top of slices. Think of a database as a set of little boxes that accept only a certain kind of stuff and enforce it by slapping your with a cryptic error message when you get it wrong. They are the equivalent of your dad's neatly sorted and ordered workshop boxes of screws, nuts, and bolts. And just like dad, they get mad when you put something that looks right to you but not to him into the "wrong" box.

A virtual operating system? More slices on top of slices.
A web page with an attachment on the way to or from your computer? Slices.

Okay, we should stop with slices now because it will upset some people if we go too far.

Encryption?

It is a way to scramble data (using a key) in such a way that they cannot be read by humans or by computers with first applying an unscrambling method (using a key).

Depending on how good - or how strong - the key and the program that applies it are, it is either hard or difficult to get the original piece of data back.

So, encryption can be used by bad guys and should be banned, right?

Then why shouldn't be ban, for example, Chinese, or English, or Navajo, or Dothraki?

Any natural language consists of data, keys, and processing algorithms. Drop a hillbilly like the blogster in the hinterlands of Mongolia, and the result will be pretty similar to sitting in front of a computer staring at mQENBEpWTPIBCAC3bXBy.

The example of Navajo is even better because of the real life intersection of the Navajo language and its "power of encryption". The story of the Navajo code talkers is our preferred example of natural language as a form of encryption. It worked, didn't it?

Complaining about encryption is an easy fashionable way to score panic points.

And totally unrelated to your security.

Lead in the gasoline of motor vehicles and in paint was exponentially more dangerous and deadly than encryption by individuals will ever be: How Lead Caused America's Violent  Crime Epedemic.

The humble fridge in your home has saved more lives than any politicians or lawyers can take credit for.

The list goes on and on.

We had to stop because TheEditor stopped chuckling and said: Given that child abuse overwhelmingly takes place within families, put cameras into the homes of everybody who has kids it you are really serious.

If you, dear readers, have any ideas how we can stop TheEditor from interfering, please let us know.

* TheEditor insists on fully gender neutral presentation, hence the "it".





 






Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cut an encrypted message into thin electronic slices

Notice: If you are a nerd or computer expert, think twice before you read this. May cause distress to experts. We take no responsibility for adverse mental or physical effects.

Remember these old black and white movies in which some kind of matching piece of jewelry proves that the two heroes are siblings separated at birth?

Or the Western with the dollar bill torn in half?

Hey, even the myth of Excalibur, King Arthur's sword, could be cited as an example, a far fetched one alright, but still.

In reality, the idea for this post comes from reading about various efforts to develop machines that can undo shredded paper. In Germany, they have made tremendous progress in re-assembling torn up Stasi documents.

Paper shredders for businesses now offer cross shredding into more than one bin in addition to ever more refined cutting tech.

How about using a reversible shredding approach for digital messages?

Here is how it could work:
1) Encrypt with PGP, using the ASCII armor output option.
2) Cut into two digital equivalents of slices, for example like so*:
mQENBEpWTPIBCAC3bXBy
 
Slice 1
mEBpTICCbBy
 
Slice 2
QNEEWTPICCbB

Slice 1 has the odd characters, 1, 3, 5, etc., add PGP header & footer to each**
Slice 2 has the even ones, 2, 4, 6, etc., add PGP header & footer to each

3) Send out Slice 1
4) Send out Slice 2
5) At the final recipient, reconstitute, decrypt, enjoy.

This method will prevent your message from being grabbed on the wire in a single packet re-assembly operation. An adversary who has the decryption key, will need to get hold of all [TBD: it that correct?] slices (at least for now) and merge them into the right order before decryption will yield a useable message.

There are multiple ways to decide on slices, we just picked the easiest one, and even for that you need to make sure the recipient uses the same base [dig - old VB coders].
As long as the sender and the recipient know how the slices are made, putting them back together may require little programming and works like a charm.

You could, for example, use a password to decide on slicing if you prefer easy linear slicing. For example, a trivial "ab" in a nicely encrypted message to mean even and odd. Or you could use a column/array approach because ascii armor will produce a nice column output.

And since you are looking at a matrix, be my guest and do something cool with it.

For the more critical readers:
Yes, deep packet inspection is a bitch. But the beauty of the internet is that you have choices. Who says that you must use the regular email protocol to get a message from Bob to Alice?
With a little bit of automation, you can work wonders. Maybe Charlie doesn't mind to be a relay, may you have friends who can do a couple of TOR hidden services.

Unless you are under active surveillance anyway, the simple act of slicing a message will lead to the following result in the database of the bad guys (which, of course, would be China or Russia).

Record 1:
On October 18 2014 at whatever time UTC, there is a message from Bob to Alice:
mEBpTICCbBy

Record 2:
On October 18 2014 at whatever time UTC + a few minutes, there is a different message from Bob to Alice:
QNEEWTPICCbB

If the bad guys want to brute force this in a year or two, good luck. Unlike paper slices, such digital slices have no physical edges, no ink marks that can be matched up. To the computer the slices look like valid messages in their own right.

And, you are the experts, so think of something.

Disclaimer:
Of course, if you use any of the above modifications to standard communication outside of a class on How not to do Encryption, we take no responsibility.

One more thing:
If you write a practical piece of code, tell us.

* For the nerds: This is the very first manual illustration, we might not have the counting sequence right.

** Or do not add them -- depending on your needs.

Coursera suggests we take a Cryptography course

Coursera is the favorite mental enhancer here at the K-Landnews.

Their online courses are still free, and still great. Perfect for refreshers, too, once you get to the age at which you need to keep notes and can no longer rely on what used to be a bottomless memory.

Okay, that age is different for each individual, but you get the point.

Coursera is also the only web site where we are happy to undergo some profiling. We can, and do, searches for classes but it is nice to have them send suggestions.

The other day, Cryptography figured prominently on the list.

We're good, we went.

Until the latest row over encryption broke out. We link to the response of the Electronic Frontier Foundation because...because we are tired of the same, old arguments for back doors.

Our notoriously foul-mouthed and volatile TheEditor snapped: You want a back door, you meet me in the bathroom! No, you cannot publish that.

Freedom of speech, dear TheEditor.

Grrrrr.

What do you think about Apple and Google being cited in arguments that their encryption helps pedophiles and terrorists?

Ha!

So, we'll volunteer one of the K-Landers to take a Coursera class on cryptography. Even if we won't make it all the way to end, we'll still know more about the subject than 99% percent of the population.

Life in the world of Apple and Android Apps has been becoming increasingly weird, given that even most of the most simple apps want full, or almost full, access to everything on your mobile device.

Thing is, if you treat people badly, they seem to tend to behave badly. Which, Freud didn't realize that, seems to be the most logical of traits.

After Cryptography, we'll do a refresher on making our own paper and ink before the European Union outlaws homemade writing implements. There must be some environmental handle to do that.

One more thing:
After proofreading the post, we are uncertain whether we should mark it as [satire] or [not satire].

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sacagawea at a German flea market

People of Native American-German descent do exist, but this post is about the lady on a U.S. one dollar coin.

In the absence of that incredible American institution called Garage Sale, over here in the K-Land, small local flea markets are the next best thing.

Generally seen as places for bargain hunters and the odd garage sale millionaire, the K-Landnews folks enjoy these events for many other reasons, primarily for the anthropological insight they offer.

Its crucial to pick a small local event, because there is nothing to be gained from the tourist traps in most European countries, for instance the horrid Camden Town Market.

Cheap signs by the sign of the road are your best bet to find a local swap meet, so always carry a pen and paper in the car - oh, wait, no need for that, we have smart phones these days.

Turns out that German flea markets are a regulated affair. There can be only so much in every town each year, right now the number is twelve if we researched correctly.

The sale of new wares is regulated, too. If new goods are to be sold, the announcement, posters, and flyers must prominently state so.
And the rule is enforced, so find a flea market without the "new goods" announcement, and you are guaranteed old stuff.

This may well be the most useful rule in the whole country.

As you enter the swap meet, generally held in the parking area of a supermarket on Sundays or at a truck stop, or similar, stop and survey the stands.

You may notice right then, or you will later, that the vast majority of stands are manned by non-professionals. We point this out because it is rather unusual in this country.

Germans have not had the habit of putting out their private goods for sale. Neighbors and acquaintances may give things away, but putting up a table or rolling out a blanket and asking strangers to pay for stuff, that's a rediscovered trait.

It is tied to cuts in the social safety net since around the year 2000, coupled with the requirement to sell off valuables before the government will give you cash. It may also be tied to a large immigrant community with an existing tradition of small commercial exchange.

Whatever the reason, the flea markets are there, and they are fun. Stoneware, china, lamps, children's clothes and toys, the inline skates of the tattooed youngster, dusty old bottles of wine (with or without content), military surplus items, toasters and posters, cds and dvds, furniture and lots more.

In 2014, the main period of goods is the 1960s to the 1990s, basically the contents of the attic of grandparents or parents.

Sometimes, when you pick up an item or point to one and ask a question, you can sense that memories are attached to it. The expression of the seller may change ever so slightly, the tone of voice may take on that very distinctive note of past experiences.

We, of course, enjoy seeing Americana, as they reflect how people see the U.S., which cultural item or influence they had incorporated into their life as Germans.

So it happened that we stood at a coin vendor and saw one dollar coins.

[Us, pointing] Oh, a Sacagawea.

[Vendor] Yes, the Indian coin, it is used only on reservations.

[Us] How much is it?

[Vendor] Three fifty.

[Us, converting, wow, that's over four dollars fifty] Hm. You know, it's a regular coin, you can use it anywhere, not limited to reservations.

[Vendor] Oh, well, that's what I was told.

[Us] Yeah, we used it mostly to give a buck to homeless people.

When our feet got tired, we stopped and did some more people watching. After a couple of hours, we made our way home, a CD of Memphis Minnie, one of Santana, and Dylan & The Dead in the Whole Foods shopping bag.

Rundfunkbeitrag zahlen oder auf Niederlassungerlaubnis verzichten?

Die Medienberichte über Gerichtsurteile zum Rundfunkbeitrag sind schon seltsam.

Das begann mit dem den Urteilen diverser Verfassungsgerichte und geht mit den Verwaltungsgerichtsuteilen weiter. Dabei ist es doch so, daß die Verfassungsgerichte für Otto-Normalbürger den Instanzenweg vorschreiben und erst danach etwas sagen wollen.

Ausländer scheinen sowieso nicht gegen den Beitrag zu klagen, die zahlen lieber.

Die Befreiung vom Beitrag ist an Sozialleistungen gekoppelt, die per Gesetz bestimmten Ausländern nicht zustehen -- egal, wieviel Geld man hat.
Man darf als EU-Bürger durchaus mit weniger Geld hier ankommen als eine deutsche Familie an Sozialleistungen bezieht. Trotzdem ist man vom ersten Tag an beitragspflichtig.

Und wenn ich zum Jobcenter bzw. zur ARGE oder wohin auch immer ginge, um Aufzustocken, wäre eine Beitragsbefreiung möglich.

Aber für Drittstaaten ist der Bezug von Sozialleistungen laut Aufenthaltsgesetz ein Kriterium für die Verweigerung der Niederlassungserlaubnis. Einen weniger starken Aufenthaltstitel könnte man bekommen.
Die Rundfunkanstalt verweigert grundsätzlich die Berechnung meines Einkommens, und Jobcenter/Arge würden mich zum Sozialleistungsempfänger machen.

Ist das noch verhältnismäßig?

Wie kommt es, daß niemand etwas zu Interessenkonflikten sagen kann? Die Mitglieder der Kommission für die Beitragsermittlung werden von den Ministerpräsidenten der Länder bestimmt - und zwar einstimmig. Und zumindest einige der Ministerpäsidenten sitzen gleichzeitig im Verwaltungsrat.

Zusätzlich sind noch andere Politiker der Landtage im Verwaltungsrat. Enthalten die sich der Stimme, wenn über Medienrecht abgestimmt wird, wenn ein neuer Änderungsvertrag ansteht?

Vor kurzem hat ein Verwaltungsgericht die Übernahme einer Gemeindebediensteten als Beisitzer abgelehnt mit dem Verweis auf mögliche Interessenkonflikte.

Wieso greift diese Ansicht nicht beim Rundfunk?

Das Ganze wäre weniger schlimm, wenn nicht die Widerlegbarkeit der Nutzung de facto ausgehebelt ist.

Wieder eine Frage der Verhältnismäßigkeit:
Ich kompostiere meine Grünabfälle und Lebensmittelreste - eine einfache Mitteilung an den Entsorger genügt.
Besitzer eines Bongs (danke, ich habe keinen, damit Sie es wissen) werden anscheinend nicht vor Gericht gezerrt.
Meine Krankenversicherung akzeptiert als Einkommensnachweis eine Kopie des letzten Steuerbescheids - die Rundfunkannstalten aber nicht, wieso?

Die erste Beitragsrechnung kam im Dezember 2013. Ich habe einen Befreiungsantrag gestellt, der nicht formell rechtsmittelfähig abgelehnt wurde.
Im Mai kam eine Kurzmitteilung, man würde mir eine Rechnung unter einer neuen Betragsnummer zusenden. Diese kam im August.

So wenig ich es auch mag, demnächst geht das vor das Verwaltungsgericht. Und wenn es denn sein muß, verzichten wir anschließend auf die Niederlassungserlaubnis und werden Kunde beim Jobcenter.

Mal schauen, wie das für jemanden ausgeht, der fast sechzig Jahre alt ist.





Thursday, October 16, 2014

German 4 Dummies: "Ehrenamt"

In the land of compound nouns, Ehrenamt is especially dear to us because it is steeped in the culture Germany.

Ehrenamt consists of the nouns Ehre (honor) and Amt (office, official function). Join the two with the appropriate grammatical glue and you get an honorary appointment or and honorary office.

Or....?

Well, look at the translations offered for Ehrenamt on the free dict.cc site, and you can begin to understand why we picked this term for a posting.

While the meaning of honorary appointment and the like does hold true, the vast majority of use cases matches our plain and simple "volunteer", or "volunteer job".
By joining as a volunteer firefighter, for instance, or joining the Red Cross, or training the local soccer team, you get an Ehrenamt.

No big official appointment ceremony, no band playing at your new unpaid gig. Aside from possibly a little bit of ritual fun with the fire engine water pump, you go, sign up and show up.

When the German speaking media report on the latest project of a charity or the firefighters, you will see the adjective ehrenamtlich(e) everywhere in the report.
The same holds true for speeches in which officials praise volunteers and their effort, their contribution to society.

The point we are trying to make is that the combination of honor and office, in the mind of the blogster, echos a bygone era with a strong notion of sometimes misdirected duty, honor, and authority while, at the same time, describing an objective set of jobs performed for no compensation, or at least very little.

Of course, you can disagree with this, but then the blogster would invite you to see if there are other words in German for volunteer and volunteering.

Plenty, right here: the main one being freiwillig - recognize free and will here? The best example we have found thus far for the intricacies of the concept of volunteering in German is the volunteer fire brigade.

The official German name for that is Freiwillige Feuerwehr, volunteer fire brigade. If you are a member you hold an Ehrenamt. In other words, the term Ehrenamt seems to encapsulate the notion of civic duty in addition to doing this as a volunteer.

So, whether you as a foreigner find the term Ehrenamt slightly creepy or wonderfully traditional and civic minded is very much up to you.

Ehrenamt does seem to imply a long term proposition, too, as opposed to the blogster's more utilitarian American concept. There is a disaster, you volunteer, you go help. Or there is a cool Craigslist volunteer call, you do the training, and you have fun - hey I still have a bright pink t-shirt somewhere with MARSHAL on it.

In the world of the Ehrenamt, things are a little less spontaneous and flexible, it would seem.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A letter box called Glasnost

If the late Soviet Union had been has trademark happy as the average American or Western European bizniz folks, the recent sanctions against Russia might include that odd line item "royalties for glasnost".

Too fast of a posting start, sorry. Here is the slow version.

Once upon a time, there was a cold, mysterious, kind of feared and kind of ridiculed great land to the east of Europe, to the west of the U.S., an to the north of everybody else.

Too slow now?

Well, there was the land of Santa Claus and the land of Krampus. One day, there appeared a new, gentler Krampus, who shed the hoof and horn image and looked like a bald version of Santa Claus.

Seriously.

This led to new words that needed to be learned by us, one of which was Glasnost, or in Russian гла́сность. Fun fact, the Soviets spoke Russian.

Glasnost was a new policy of transparency and openness, and luckily for us Westerners, the first four letters of the word look much like "glass", that symbol of transparency.

The concept worked but was not trademarked by the Soviets.  Had they done so, they could still cash in on royalties for stuff like the Glasnost series of letter boxes found, here for example.

If you speak Russian or actually clicked the Wikipedia link above - hell no, we are not repeating it here - then you might say, wait.

Glasnost is an old, nice word, why would anybody even think of trademarking an existing word or phrase?

We cannot ask the Soviets, because they obviously failed to think of that. However, we can ask our buddies at the Disney corporation who tried something similar with the Spanish "Dia de los Muertos", which for you and I means "Day of the Dead" and is about the spooky October/November holiday of Christians in Mexico.

While Disney withdrew the trademark filing for that one, it might be a good idea to check if someone has slammed a TM on Glasnost yet.

But to make the time you spent reading this post worthwhile, here is a link to the German Max Planck institute ISP traffic shaping test GLASNOST.

Traffic shaping is not the same as the advertised connection speed. The GLASNOST site allows you to select specific protocols to see if traffic shaping for them is in place (commonly this is done for such nasties as BitTorrent).

Do social media strengthen conformity?

In early October, an opEd/blog in Sueddeutsche Zeitung stated that Google, Facebook, Twitter and others strengthen conformity.

Instead of simply checking it off as a piece of limited value with very predictable arguments, the blogster put it on the reading list.

Here is our meta opinion: a piece of limited value with very predictable arguments.

To us, the main value of the article lies in the introduction of the term Schweigespirale (spiral of silence), a German take on the concept of the silent majority with the simple fact that humans like to be on the side of the majority and fear social isolation.
In terms of international science on public opinion research, the concept is classified by TheEditor as a slick move of one-up-manship over the idea of "silent majority". In terms of its use in Germany, it was a favorite attack term of conservatives in their fight against an alleged left leaning pubic radio and TV. TheEditor finds the latter pretty amusing in light of the fact that the inventor of the term had a distinguished propaganda career during the Nazi era, which became the poster child of the influence of radio, which, in turn, became one of the foundation myths of West Germany.

More to the point, the article highlights filtering of search results and social media contributions for the individual user. This, says, the author creates a devious bubble in which users are not confronted with opinions outside of their existing preferences. According to this, conservatives get lots of opinions which reinforce their view, liberals would get more of the liberal take on the world. And "if you hate Facebook, you get more Facebook hating opinions".

The article calls this "censorship" and states that it is all the more dangerous, even endangering democracy itself, because it is not the content that's censored but the delivery of content in that the content is tailored to the individual without his or her prior consent or knowledge.

Well, we'll talk about consent in a second, but the question of knowledge is probably less of an issue because a lot has been said and written about this sort of delivery. The article itself is an example of that.
And at least some social media sites do tell you that they tailor suggestions and results to you. 

Consent is trickier.

The K-Landnews TheEditor has had a consent issue for a long time, and many German politicians and media workers have recently shown some of the same feelings in the context of Google's 90% or so share of the search market over here: what does consent mean in such an environment, they ask.

Because consent is about control. And consent gets attributed to you even if you do disagree - both in real life and on the internet. It is no coincidence that German web sites must have a link disclaimer stating that the operator does not condone the contents page this link points to.

So, loss of control is what a good part of internet criticism is about. It has happened with every new medium, from printed matter in general to teens getting their hands on dirty books to the internet.

Why is the internet blamed these days?

In part because of the supposed great expectations: an untamed, uncontrolled world of free information and new thinking.

So, a case of unrequited love.

The opEd writer knows that you can go and find new places, some of "that freedom" but laments that it no longer is the rule and needs extra effort. We disagree. Look the Internet Archive Way Back machine. While you are at it, read some of the early scholarly warnings re. the internet.

And if you are afraid of conformity, stay away from the history of Christianity, any party convention, and any government press conferences.

[Update 15 Oct. a couple hours after posting] Minor style edits.
Oh, and don't you talk about "extra effort" at a time in history when huge, mindbogglingly effing huge amounts of information and opinion require only moderate typing skills (love spell check) and a cheap internet connection. You may never have researched for a paper longer than 10 pages in the pre-web world, or maybe you forgot - as a result of over-stimulation by the webby web, perhaps?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The overlooked issue behind adolescent rebellion

If you are a psychologist, you may want to skip this post. The short text below may offend your sensibilities.

In reality, of course, the blogster agrees with most of what is said in insightful articles like Rebel with a Cause: Rebellion in Adolescence. There are, after all, decades of learning and counseling behind the article. Even more importantly, there is serious neuroscience behind explanations of erratic, illogical, detrimental behavior patterns of young people. And, reluctantly, we have seen studies that look at other mammals and try to get insights into humans, not just adolescents.

Luckily for the blogster, the interesting aspect is To what degree a young person needs to rebel varies widely.

In most of the standard advice and explanations regarding adolescents, what the blogster finds lacking is this: children are great bullshit detectors, first when it comes to their parents, later also with regard to other adults, like teachers.

What appears to be an innate desire for fairness, shown to exist in apes, too, can complicate life for the young adult as he or she sees the discrepancies in what we tell them and how we actually behave.

One of the most shocking experiences the blogster recalls a few decades into life is the day the clear parental statement of "do not lie" broke down.

A neighbor was coming to the house.

The doorbell rang.

Go tell her I'm not home.

A very young, and at that moment very confused, future blogster went to the door, greeted the neighbor and duly answered the question with "mam is not home".
The situation would not have been a problem if the instruction had been something like, sorry, mam does not feel like company, she'll get back to you shortly.

A cultural norm passed down from adult to child.

Here is an equally distressing example of a norm passed from adult to child and on to another child from there. In a school yard in middle USA, kids run around a newly arrived classmate during recess, chanting: You go to hell, you go to hell. The child is standing there, crying. All because the child had told others she was a buddhist.

If your kid is the buddhist, you cannot prevent this from happening but you can be supportive.

Consistency, predictability, and respect work with other mammals, so why don't you apply them to your children. Oh, and those of others you come in contact with.

A widely used approach to adolescents is "offering and accepting a challenge". Whether that takes the form of a soccer mam shuttling offspring from one activity to the next or kicking a ball across a dirt field or - hold your breath - child labor may not matter all that much.

Although we support children working on "real" projects, but on their own schedule and supervised as necessary.

While the urban middle class idea of adolescence may not include a twelve year old proficient in motorcycle repair, or an equally proficient twelve year old cook and baker, these skills are probably less dangerous than playing football and more useful.

And they may make all the difference one day when discrepancies of what we teach our children and our way of muddling through life erupt in what we conveniently call an act of rebellion.

Hey, even part of the political pendulum swings we see may simply be the result of our kids recognizing that we have not lived up to the ideals we professed.

In other words: we should give our children more credit for their ability to observe the world around them.

Allowing adolescents as young as 16 to vote in elections, as they can in some countries, seems to be a good step in the right direction.

The blogster prefers a rebellious teen over the average greedy 40 year old or the standard disillusioned 50 something any day.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Betschdorf - the less glamorous Alsace pottery town

Several days ago, we talked about Soufflenheim and Kougelhopfs, today we spend time on Betschdorf, only a short drive northwest of Soufflenheim.

While the sequence of posts betrays our rather conventional approach - glam first, "other" later - we must stress that Betschdorf is a great place. Even if you have spent all your money on colorful objects in Soufflenheim, do go to Betschdorf to look around.

The blue salt glazed stoneware, as seen for instance on the website of this potter, is often used to make storage containers, with a few wine or beer mugs and jugs thrown in.

You'll notice the storage use immediately if you look at the small gardens and court yards while you make you way along pottery street, the main drag. Broken or disused grey and blue lard or sauerkraut containers abound as flower pots.

They are absolutely everywhere, in contrast to the finer wares of Soufflenheim. Though Soufflenheim residents use colorful arrangements of tiles on walls or even gables of houses.

There appears to be a greater degree of specialization in Betschdorf, though some makers have a comprehensive product line. Others design and make gorgeous goblets, jugs, or figurines from their clay.

You will be surprised by how delicate and almost paper thin the masters work the  material we traditionally associate with rugged, utilitarian wares.