Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli - J'attendrai

I just ran across a Jazz musician who I'd never encountered before: "Django" Reinhardt, perhaps the first significant European Jazz artist.  There's a lot about him at Infogalactic, but in addition to his musical creds, he was a Gipsy jazz musician in occupied France during the war.  The Nazis hated both gipsys (and killed boxcar loads of them) but hated jazz as well.  He survived because there were a number of Nazi officers who actually liked the music, including Luftwaffe officer Dietrich Schulz-Köhn who was known as "Doctor Jazz" (!):
However, it's Kubrick's interest in jazz-loving Nazis that represents his most fascinating unrealized war film. The book that Kubrick was handed, and one he considered adapting soon after wrapping Full Metal Jacket, was Swing Under the Nazis, published in 1985 and written by Mike Zwerin, a trombonist from Queens who had performed with Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy before turning to journalism. The officer in that Strangelovian snapshot was Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a fanatic for "hot swing" and other variations of jazz outlawed as "jungle music" by his superiors. Schulz-Koehn published an illegal underground newsletter, euphemistically referred to as "travel letters," which flaunted his unique ability to jaunt across Western Europe and report back on the jazz scenes in cities conquered by the Fatherland. Kubrick's title for the project was derived from the pen name Schulz-Koehn published under: Dr. Jazz.



The Intarwebz are a wonderful place.

UPDATE 16 August 2017 17:28: Here's a short documentary on how Reinhardt survived the War.



Palate cleansing news

It seems like the Republic is going to Hell in a hand basket, torn asunder by totalitarian pricks on both sides.  As a ever so brief respite from that, here is the big news from Ellsworth, Maine (courtesy of childhood friend 2cents).  Warden guides wandering moose back into the woods:
ELLSWORTH — A sickly looking moose that slowed Bayside Road traffic Monday morning was found to be healthy and sent back into the woods by a game warden.
Detective Dotty Small said the moose, which looked thin and sickly, was first reported to police at 7:37 a.m. Monday. It was seen in the area of 505 Bayside Road, just south of Spindle Road.
Sure, it's not exotic and dangerous like Bison chasing tourists at Old Faithful.  It's Maine - the way Life should be*.

* Well, that's what the sign on I-95 says.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Amazon recalls unsafe solar eclipse glasses

You'll, err, shoot your eye out with those:
Amazon has "proactively" recalled solar eclipse glasses that "may not comply with industry standards" before darkness descends on the US next week, August 21. 
To directly observe its awesome power without destroying their eyes, stargazers can use special filtered glasses that meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standards. 
But the American Astronomical Society based in Washington DC has warned that some companies have been printing the ISO logo and certification label on faulty glasses and handheld viewers "made with materials that do not block enough of the Sun's ultraviolet, visible, and infrared radiation to make them truly safe". Some manufacturers were also allegedly displaying bogus test results on their websites.
The American Astronomical Society has a list of tested and certified eclipse glasses.  If you (like The Queen Of The World and I) plan on going to see the eclipse, you should double check the glasses you have.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Driving Miss Brigid - A Guest Post

We live in a 100+ year old Village in Chicagoland.  The streets are small, and most houses have tiny garages that exit to the alley. With a lot that has side yards with lots of space between we and neighbors plus a long driveway exiting to the street, we are a bit unusual (we think the original owner bought two entire lots for the space, then added the two car garage in the 50's or 60's). A stand of 100 year old Spruces between us and the southern neighbors is nice, and the retired Veteran neighbor to our north also bought two lots and added a driveway, so we have some space., unusual for this area.

The problem is, people don't consider that we have to get OUT of that driveway to a very narrow street. After the giant four door 4 x 4 truck and I moved in after getting transferred to our office here, there were a couple of mornings I had to wait until the neighbors that park on the street left to get out. The house across and one down had been a  multi unit rental (basement, first floor, and second floor) after the previous single owner retired and moved, putting it up for sale.  There were several parties living there with multiple vehicles. There's plenty of open space further down, but that entails driving further, even if it's not any further away from their door. I made sure everyone got homemade baked goods, an introduction to the bat truck and an explanation as to how much space I need to get out without whacking their vehicles.  Other than having to sometimes put out cones when someone had a family member or sleepover date visiting on a weekend, everyone had been awesome.
But that house across and one door down has new owners - according to neighbors that had met them, a family who is going to live in it with the exception of the tiny upstairs dormer rental that a couple of their college age kids will occupy, with multiple cars, including a new Ford truck that likely will NOT fit in their little garage.  With several cars there as their extended family helps get the house ready for final move in, some spending the night, it's been a bit crowded getting out.

Yesterday, rather than consider the thought of going through THAT learning curve again and having to use leave because I am late to work - when I came home and the new owner and what looked like (from the resemblance) either adult sons or little brothers were standing outside waiting for a contractor (since it's been a rental, I'm sure there's a bit of work before it's move in ready) - I HAD A PLAN!
They spot cute redhead in big, shiny black truck and all hold their stomachs in, smile and give a friendly "hello new neighbor" wave.  I waved back.

I normally back in - in one fluid movement, as it makes it easier to get out in the a.m. Having been a jet pilot for many years, I can usually back that truck in very quickly and very efficiently, in one try (unlike the Reno airport in the snowy/icy winter where you just use differential power to SLIDE into the gate and hope you get it right).

Yesterday, while they all looked on, I deliberately took about 4 wide tries at it, less than gently stomping on the brakes, and on the last one deliberately taking the truck THROUGH the lawn (that will buff out) and intentionally almost hitting one of the spruce trees, before finally, getting the truck backed in with a screech of brakes.

Today, all the new neighbor's vehicles and those of their family were parked WELL down the street, away from my driveway.

My work here is done.

So who thinks that the climate data is bad?

Besides me, of course?  The National Academy of Sciences does, too:
In 1999, the National Academy of Sciences, the research arm of the National Research Council, released a study expressing concern about the accuracy of the data used in the debate over climate change. They said there are,
“Deficiencies in the accuracy, quality and continuity of the records,” that “place serious limitations on the confidence that can be placed in the research results.” 
This is huge - if you can't trust the data, you can't trust the results.  The science is settled?  Orlly?


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Commas: not just a good idea, a requirement


Poor dog.

Verklempt

It's a summer day. I know I took this picture and I know it was the 4th of July. I don't know what year. That's okay. It makes it timeless. It's my grandparent's home in New Hampshire.

This is what comes to mind when someone says "your family home". We moved frequently enough that I don't have a childhood memory of another permanent place. This was "home".


A big New England farmhouse. A fair amount of property that went with the house, some planted in pines, some fields overgrown with brambles and berry bushes, a few apple trees going wild, an old graveyard under big oaks far back in the woods. A lot of land for a boy to explore.

I found this picture in the course of my scanning project and it brought me to a standstill, lost in a reverie of my childhood and the America I grew up in.

Johann Pachelbel - Chaconne in F minor

Have you ever wondered what the "B Side" is of a composer known for a single great work?  Johann Pachelbel is renowned for his Canon in D (so renowned, in fact, that it has been parodied).  As it turns out, Pachelbel wasn't a one hit wonder, he was quite prolific.  His Chaconne in F minor is perhaps his next best known work.  He composed it for organ, as with most of his works.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Nina Simone - Feeling Good

Doctor said things look good and I don't need to go back for another "oil change" for 3 years.  It's a new day, baby.



The importance of maintenance

Once you reach a certain age, things begin to go off inside you, and so a regular program of maintenance is called for.  Part of this is them going in to clean out any odd growths from your digestive tract.  And so it's off to the doctor for a rather uncomfortable morning.

Actually, the morning should be fine; the prep work last evening was the uncomfortable bit.



The last one was 6 months ago, and they found (and removed) something sort of big and sort of strange.  Today is to check that they got it.  Hopefully it will be in and out, and good news from the doc.  I expect that if it's not good news it would be pretty bad news, so we've all learned the importance of a proper maintenance schedule, haven't we.

Blogging has been off for a bit and will continue to be off for a bit.

UPDATE 11 August 2017 12:50: Back home with a clean bill of health.  A little woozy still, but don't need another "oil change" for three years.  Go team me!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Emptiness and Form, an Aircraft Boneyard - A Brigid Guest Post

What is it about old places filled with the past that fascinate so?

The landscape of the desert. The feel of machinery against our shoulder. The smell of oil and might on the breeze. I had a chance to re-visit a resting place of old aircraft.

In the desert just outside of the city of Tucson is a a place where old airplanes go to die. Davis Monthan Air Base and it's resting grounds. A business trip had me down that way so I made the effort to go visit.  The"Boneyard" in the desert has been a fascination, a place where titans of the air rest before going on their way to the aviation afterlife.

The Air Force calls the desert facility "Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center" (AMARC), many visitors refer to it as "the boneyard". We are probably both right. Here the U.S. Air Force mothballs planes until they either need them again or it's time to salvage them for parts. Whenever the U.S. sells surplus planes to foreign governments part of the sales pitch is that there will always have a ready supply of spare parts. Some are turned into pilotless drones and used for missile target practice. Many, too many have all the earmarks of being skeletal.
There are only three ways to view the aircraft at the heart of the Davis-Monthan facility: fly over the place (tough unless you're riding in on an F-15); from a satellite; or by Bus from the PASM. Since I can't afford either an F-15 nor a KH-12 Spy Satellite, I rode with a couple dozen other tourists and took the bus tour.

There's enough information on the place on the web and numerous aviation blog posts, so I won't get too wordy here, but suffice to say there's about every military plane ever made here, including the leviathans of the site; 100 plus B-52s, all that remain of nearly 400, slowly being destroyed as part of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, and the force reduction treaties. These bombers are chopped up using a 130 ton blade, then left for a week or more to allow the Russians to photograph and confirm their destruction. I have watched several airmen view a documentary of those aircraft being dismembered and I know, that had they been alone, they would have been crying, tears for the incredible creativity as well as the terrible destruction that man is capable of.

I could picture these craft in their prime, in the flight line each morning as each bird began its wandering life.  As men bustled about, shafts of light struck polished metal in thin lines of gold, bending and then twisting over the cowlings as if rendered molten by the touch.  The engines still slept, hushed by an absent hand and watched over by a gentle breeze.  As always, there would be one aircraft off on its own, having a heavy (maintenance) check, bearing the ground with the excitement of a disenchanted philosopher.

Today, all is still, their only remaining the shells of what was once thunderous with life.

Just beyond the remaining Buffs, where the bus turned to make its way back to the museum, are two parks of odd looking equipment. The equipment is the tooling and jigs for the B-1 and B-2 bomber production lines. One day those bombers will take up residence under the clear blue Arizona sky, and there might still be B-52s to keep them company.
It's an amazing, still place. The first time I went there, security was much freer and we were able to get up closer and look. Wander among the husks of aircraft. The aircraft, sharp and large against the backdrop of a desert sky, holding so many stories in the empty spaces they form and contain.

I can almost hear the echoes of the words shouted over the sound of the ramp. "Clear Two" is shouted out just before that first engine rumbles to life in that that strong confident tone that is used when heavens fall and justice is served, unheard words that now hang on the air as gentle as dew, as hard as molten lead.

It's mysterious, exciting, the kind of place where as a kid your dreams went. It's even more mysterious as night falls on the Sonora Desert. There, the aircraft stand like ghostly sentinels upon the hard earth, under unfathomed sky. They loom, over tiny scrabbles of cactus and the small desert creatures. They wait, on hard earth splayed with the tracks of tiny feet, and larger feet, making their own shadows of violent shade until the unrestrained stars come out at night. Their forms, so silent, yet with so much to tell.
When I was a student of the Martial Arts, my Sensei once said, that "emptiness is form and form is emptiness", a phrase I never really understood until that moment, staring at those cavernous behemoths of the sky. One moment they are simply an empty form, in another memory brings back to life the souls they contained, the might they rendered, the absolute force in which they sliced the sky as they dealt with life or death that oblidge no delay

Some of the airmen that flew many of these aircraft have died already, so many aircraft, so many souls on board. As I think about that, their empty bodies float in my mind, light, unfettered by gravity, I became aware of my own heartbeat in the setting sun, the labor of my lungs against my chest. Form is emptiness. Emptiness form, I say as with warm and eager breath I take in the landscape, as my mind grasps just how real, how tangible these husks of aircraft still are, even as some of their crews are but dust.
Overhead, desert thunderstorms loom and erupts, heavy drops of water hitting us as we scurry for the tour bus, threads of moisture hitting the packed earth like gunfire. The remains of the aircraft fall behind us, the forms of inevitable truth here in a world so often less than truthful.

The sound of thunder echoes across the boneyard, nature's taps playing as the sky weeps for the dead with crystal purity.

These thoughts were broken by the chatter of some of the other tour members. For a moment I wanted to hush them, as this was a solemn place. To tell them to be quiet. . . . . or something. Something about interfering with the shuttered windows of these forms, the dark alleys of an airplane's final resting place and the sky's remembrance of such places, filled with the elemental silence of those who have flown away.

- Brigid

Electric cars and child slavery

It's all about Cobalt.

This is a key element in the manufacture of the batteries needed for electric cars and solar/wind farms.  It's mined in the Congo, and like "blood diamonds" the locals use child slaves to get it:
When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall. 
Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away. A full sack was lifted on to Dorsen’s head and he staggered across to the stack. A brutish overseer stood over him, shouting and raising his hand to threaten a beating if he spilt any.

The article is pretty sickening, but includes this tidbit:
The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).
The wages of "green" energy: exploitation of 4 year olds.

And subsidies.  Elon Musk has pulled down $5B in government subsidies.  That's our money, going to fuel what's happening in Congo.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What were ancient battles like?

Absolutely terrifying.  At least if you were there.

This is some excellent ancient history geekery.

Cheating on climate data?

Most countries enthusiastically signed up to the Paris climate accords.  It looks like the enthusiasm was due to the countries planning on cheating:
Potent, climate warming gases are being emitted into the atmosphere but are not being recorded in official inventories, a BBC investigation has found.
Air monitors in Switzerland have detected large quantities of one gas coming from a location in Italy.
However, the Italian submission to the UN records just a tiny amount of the substance being emitted.
Levels of some emissions from India and China are so uncertain that experts say their records are plus or minus 100%.

At this point I'm starting to wonder if there are any reliable climate data at all.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Medical CAT scanners hackable from the Internet

It seems that these have web servers (strike one) that are Internet-accessible (strike two) that have an unmatched vulnerability that lets the Bad Guy run any code they want on it (strike three):
Hackers can exploit trivial flaws in network-connected Siemens' medical scanners to run arbitrary malicious code on the equipment. 
These remotely accessible vulnerabilities lurk in all of Siemens' positron emission tomography and computed tomography (PET-CT) scanners running Microsoft Windows 7. These are the molecular imaging gizmos used to detect tumors, look for signs of brain disease, and so on, in people. They pick up gamma rays from radioactive tracers injected into patients, and perform X-ray scans of bodies. 
US Homeland Security warned on Thursday that exploits for bugs in the equipment's software are in the wild, and "an attacker with a low skill would be able to exploit these vulnerabilities." That's because the flaws lie within Microsoft and Persistent Systems' code, which runs on the Siemens hardware, and were patched years ago. 
The patches just didn't make their way to the scanners.
Of course not.  Patches?  We don' need no stencil' patches!

After all, making an Internet playground for shady Black Hats, all inside a huge X-Ray control system - what could possibly go wrong?


Lawsuit says Disney apps track kids without parent's permission

This seems pretty important:
Disney has been sued in America for allegedly collecting children's personal information without getting parents' approvals. 
class-action lawsuit [PDF] filed Thursday in northern California accuses the unstoppable children's entertainment brand and three of its developer partners of violating privacy laws by tracking the locations and activities of kids who use their mobile games – without first asking parents to approve the activity. 
Named plaintiff Amanda Rushing is suing on behalf of herself and a class of all parents whose kids played "Disney Princess Palace Pets" and 42 other Disney-branded smartphone and tablet games that allegedly run afoul of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). 
According to the suit, the Disney apps for both iOS and Android do not ask for parental permission before they use software development kits that assign unique identifiers to users and then use those identifiers to track the location of the users, as well as activities in-game and across multiple devices. The data is then fed to advertisers to serve up targeted ads.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Now that is marketing


Well played.

Modest Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition

Late 19th century Russia saw a rebellion against the French influenced culture imported by Czars from Peter the Great through Catherine the Great and beyond.  Artists sought a return to Russian roots.  A group of composers called "The Five" (Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Cesar Cui, and Mily Balakirev) formed a loose confederation aimed at the creation of a specifically Russian form of music.

The sudden death (at quite a young age) of Viktor Hartmann (one of Mussorgsky's friends) resulted in an exposition of Hartmann's paintings.  Mussorgsky was inspired to compose a suite of ten movements based on scenes from Hartmann's memorial exposition.  While many of the paintings were done while Hartmann was outside Russia, Mussorgsky's music is perhaps the quintessential Russian music.  Arguably, it approaches the Platonic ideal of Russian music.



Emerson, Lake, and Palmer recorded a version of this in 1970, on their album "Pictures At An Exhibition".

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The World is Full of Magic Things - A Brigid Guest Post

The world is full of magic things,
 patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

As I grew up, I took better notice of the world around me. That kept me alive more than once, when looking away might have meant my day ending in an explosion of surprised pain.  I might not be the youngest or the most fit in the group, but when need be, I can fire out of a dangerous place as if stuffed with powder, or fight back.  It's perception, it's nothing more than awareness of things around you, when to take cover and when to take flight. You learn through time, or by staring at your reflection in the weapon of your own destruction.  I see the little things, I'm trained to, yes, but I try and look past the obvious into the shadows.

It's not just situations, it's not just  people, it's words.  Politics will teach us, if anything, that words are just that, words, and without any sort of commitment to their substantiation, they mean nothing. Words not just spoken, but crafted and spun and spun yet again until they are as lightweight and meaningless as brittle thread.
Simple words, but words that bear power.  Remember the big fuss when Crayola had to get rid of the crayons we all colored with for generations, one called "Flesh" because it was a light shade, the color of Caucasian skin.  Like "Indian Red" it was soon sent to the bin of obsolete colors. Flesh, certainly, is every hue and shade, but what the word brings back is whatever you bring to it, that small exposed place on the inside of the wrist just below a cuff of blue shirt, the shadow there beneath the nape of the neck, where the hair is as soft as down underneath your lips as you slip down into colorless dark.

Indian Red.  For me that does not bring to mind a Native American, but the fire, the variated sky of the desert, the hues of life and death.  It is the color of nature's power and the deceit of man's ego, which not only rises but sometimes sets, on crimson holes in a ravaged shirt, that bloomed like sudden flowers in the darkness.  It is  the color of muddy, bloodied ground, from which the soul strives to leave before being pulled beneath it forever. It is the color of a sunrise in your lovers eyes, the light of hope and given promise.
Words, just words, that bring to them meaning which is yours alone.

A person is more than their words, and more than their form.  As a woman, not just a mother, I hate to see the images being given to our daughters, in word, in pictures, as to what is "beautiful".

Models in magazines aren't just thin and pretty but they have every single pore and "imperfection" photo-shopped away.  Wrinkles aren't a badge of a life well lived, but yet another thing to be blurred by a computer, and heaven forbid we be a healthy weight, as apparently if you're not a size zero you should just go buy your Muumuu and hide at home..

How did we reach such a place where what is considered beautiful or desirable is defined by a magazine?  You must be this thin, you must be this age, this shape; you must be this tall to ride the ride.  And I watch, we watch, as a nation of daughters starve themselves into an image that was never their perception of beauty, only their perception of belonging.  Men can be no different, for that pain of  unrealistic expectations knows no gender.
It's a sad world indeed, when we care more about how someone looks than what they can create. When one's worth is based upon what they can give us in our lacking, not what they are. But we are the population that, for the most part, would rather watch the talentless of reality TV than pick up a book written two hundred years ago that is still sold today.  Who among them, has ever experienced sitting in quiet with such a book, as words come swift and secret in the night, dressed in garments of longing and lust and greed and triumph, the likes of which no episode of reality TV would even scratch the surface of.

It's perception. It's how you look at the world and how much of the world out there, hidden away from prying eyes, you take the time to really look at.  To many - a life lived is little more than breathing, pleasures and darkness. To others it is a richly layered landscape of both risk and reward.

Two different people looking at the same thing will never see it the same way. Standing at a Western art show looking at works representing bygone eras,  I'm entranced by a one particular painting,  It is a simple one of an older woman on the prairie wearing clothing from a bygone era.  A young woman next to me gives it a cursory glance and says - "old woman in ugly dress, moving along".
I look at it and see so much more.  The woman in the painting is not twenty, nor is she beautiful by today's standards.  The artist has her in a shapeless dress, the dark colors of which could represent widowhood or mourning. but do not still the hunger of the flesh that's there in her eyes.  I do not notice her fashion choice or her form, only hinted at under the voluminous folds of faded fabric.  I simply see a face calm in what had to be an era of great suffering, I see hands that can weave cloth, cook, plow a field or bury a stillborn baby, standing there in the painting, much as the guide was in this auditorium, steadily watching and waiting for what life still remained.

The dilapidated farmhouse behind her looks empty, the land is covered in dust.  There are no children or others around her, just her form, standing straight and tall looking off to the horizon.  There is no history as to what the painting represents. but looking at it, I see her not as a woman approaching middle age, but the form of a butterfly as it emerges from the cocoon, carrying nothing of what it was into what it is,  emerging complete and intact as the wild rose that suddenly blooms from barren soil.
"Old woman in ugly dress".  I shudder to think how little the younger generation may really see, beyond what's on their smart phone or current "selfie".

But among my generation we can be just as nearsighted.  Some people would look at a small safe in which lie several new and historical firearms and simply see "gun nut!" (often muttered with the same tone as "shark!").  Others would see money that could have been given to others, as how selfish to actually wish to enjoy the fruits of my years of hard work.  Others will see what I do, tools of value and defense, of which I am the custodian of their careful use, just as I am the custodian of the world I carry around inside me.
I finish up preparing for my day, gathering up notes on what has been torn apart, and set them under a stone. It's a rough piece of rock, that when cut in half, would reveal the most incredible colors.  Look closely, look deeply.  There's a dark purple so rare, that for a commoner in ancient times to don it, would be on pain of death. There's startled jays of blue, soft pinks and whites that flower from within, the color of flesh, dripping from limbs like paint, forbidden fruits, their taste only a memory as you trace the emotion of those hues with the tip of a finger

To some, this would simply be a "rock", never turned over, not examined closely, never revealing that beauty that emerges when it has been cut.  To not see that, to not know that, will be their loss.

I turn the desk light off, as the morning sun vanquishes the darkness, wondering too, if these words will be just words, spun off into the dark.  But it's enough to know, that, which I've learned through the years, that seeing and hearing are both blind and deaf, but the well worn heart can see that which is absolute magic.
 - Brigid

Alabama - If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)

The Queen Of The World and I went to a 1980s party at the local Harley HOG chapter last night.  The Queen's "Madonna" outfit wasn't helped by her knee brace (or the crutches she's been on since the surgery), but she was a real trooper.  I did my best Don Johnson, but she clearly outshone me.



But when you think of the 1980s and Country Music, you have to think about Alabama.  They had 27 #1 hits in that decade and 7 multi-platinum albums in that decade, and were named the artist of the decade by the Academy of Country Music.

This was one of my favorites.  It's just fun.



Alabama - If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band) (Songwriters: Murray Kellum, Dan Mitchell)
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band
That lead guitar is hot,
But not for "Louisiana man"
So rosin up that bow for "faded love"
And let's all dance
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band 
I remember down in Houston
We were puttin' on a show
When a cowboy in the back stood up and yelled,
"Cotton-Eyed Joe"!
He said, "we love what you're doin'
Boys don't get us wrong,
There's just somethin' missin' in your song 
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band
That lead guitar is hot,
But not for "Louisiana man"
So rosin up that bow for "faded love"
And let's all dance
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band 
So we dusted off our boots and put our cowboy hats on straight
Them Texans raised the roof when Jeff opened up his case
You say y'all all want to two-step. you say ya want to doe-si-doe
Well, here's a fiddlin' song before we go 
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band
That lead guitar is hot,
But not for "Louisiana man"
So rosin up that bow for "faded love"
And let's all dance
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band 
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band
That lead guitar is hot,
But not for "Louisiana man"
So rosin up that bow for "faded love"
And let's all dance
If you're gonna play in Texas,
You gotta have a fiddle in the band

Friday, August 4, 2017

Next, I guess it will be Watermelon-on-the-cob


What do you get when you cross a fish tank with a computer?

You get a target for hackers:
Hackers are constantly looking for new ways to access people’s data.Most recently, the way was as simple as a fish tank.
The hackers attempted to acquire data from a North American casino by using an Internet-connected fish tank, according to a report released Thursday by cybersecurity firm Darktrace.
The fish tank had sensors connected to a PC that regulated the temperature, food and cleanliness of the tank.
“Somebody got into the fish tank and used it to move around into other areas (of the network) and sent out data,” said Justin Fier, Darktrace’s director of cyber intelligence. 

The Internet of Things and computer controlled everything is a bigger risk for corporations and governments, because they have more data that is worth stealing.  I know people who did "White Hat" penetration tests (hired by the Casino to check their security) who got into the main network via the Ethernet that was hooked up to the minibar in the room.  That was at least ten years ago

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Have a Flinging Friday - A Brigid Guest Post

The neighbor's teenagers playing their music too loud as they come up the country road? The same youngsters gathered around, smoking cigarettes upwind of your property just because Mom and Dad aren't home?

Forget that sissy method of telling them keep it down, which will instantly label you "old geezer". Just get yourself a trebuchet.

After all, nothing says "pipe down" quite like a rotten sheep carcass on fire arcing over the back fence onto their stereo.


We've got combines and tractors, corn and trucks. But looking around the countryside there aren't enough trebuchets out here.

In those boring days before gunpowder, folks had to come up with other methods of tossing death and destruction at each other. They started by simply throwing rocks at one another, advancing to flinging giant stones, and then to hurling a few boulders. Street crime was probably not a problem, Imagine some thug coming up to you on the street and saying "catapultum habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnen mihi dabis, ad caput tumm saxum immane mittam."(I have a catapult. Give me all the money or I will fling an enormous rock at your head).

But as a weapon of warfare, they have been around a long time. Being half Scandahoovian I was curious as to when they reached the Vikings. The Vikings may have known of them at a very early stage, as the monk Abbo de St. Germain reported in his epic De bello Parisiaco (time frame 890) that engines of war were used on the siege of Paris. Nordic people or "the Norsemen" were documented as using engines of war at the siege of Angers as early as 873. The trebuchet is essentially a gravity powered energy conversion machine, turning potential energy into kinetic energy and using it to throw something of mass.

The counterweight trebuchet appeared in both Christian and Muslim lands around the Mediterranean in the twelfth century, flinging projectiles weighing several hundred pounds at high speeds into enemy fortifications. Fortifications had evolved over the course of the Middle ages, the most well recognized being the castle. The castle served as a protected place for the local elites (sort of like Congress). Inside was refuge from armies too large to face in open battle. The ability of the heavy cavalry to dominate a battle on an open field was useless against fortifications. The siege engine was then further developed and honed.
In June and July of 1191, Richard the Lionheart (the Duke of Normandy) laid siege to the city of Acre as part of the medieval Crusades.

The Duke concentrated on constructing siege machines and placing trebuchets (literally, stone hurler) in suitable places. He arranged for these to shoot continually day and night. He had one excellent one which he called "Bad Neighbor" (Malvoisine). The constant bombardment shattered the Cursed Tower after breaching the city walls. On one side the Templars' trebuchet wrought a frantic devestation, while the Hospitallers trebuchet hurled and hurled, to the abject fear of the Turks. Besides these, there was a trebuchet that had been constructed at general expense, which they called "God's Stone-Thrower". (Which was much more effective than the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch). A priest, a man of great probity, always stood next to it preaching and collecting money for its continual repair and for hiring people to gather the stones for its ammunition. This machine at last demolished the wall next to the Cursed Tower for around "two perches' Length" (10-11 yards ). *

Range and size of the weapons varied. In 1421 the future Charles VII of France commissioned a trebuchet that was said to have been able to shoot a stone of over 1500 pounds but that was not the norm. Rate of fire could be noteworthy: at the siege of Lison in 1147 it was said there were two engines were capable of launching a stone every 15 seconds. (my question? How to you reload those babies?)

Many times trash and debris were lobbed over castle walls to rain down upon unsuspecting masses or invading armies. On occasion, disease-infected corpses were flung into cities in an attempt to infect or terrorize the people under siege—a medieval form of biological warfare.

Then gunpowder was invented and rock warfare became passé quickly, with the trebuchet losing its place as the siege engine of choice to the cannon and later, firearms.

Thinking now you want to make your own just to supplement your weapon collection? You can start by getting one of these wooden war engine kits from ThinkGeek.com that let you bring back all the fun of flinging. Each one can assemble in just a few hours, and provides a fantastic scale model of an actual war weapon of yore. ThinkGeek suggests starting with a few lobs of paper over the cubicle wall at your coworkers. But it's said that the trebuchet is better for long range targets (like the network printer). It's not intended for kids (yes you can put your eye out with this thing) and if you lob a flaming Bic lighter reinforced with thumbtacks at the boss you are likely to be fired.

There is a desktop application out there where you can configure mass, arm length, and length of flail to create and fling masses from a virtual trebuchet. Unrealistically, however, it can be manipulated so that your stones could achieve escape velocity.

It sounds like all kinds of fun in any case. For a small price, you can order Wooden War Engine Kits to lend a medieval flair to any office warfare arsenal. The Catapult Kit is rubber band powered (not included) and can hurl paper balls and other small items approximately 10 feet.

The ThinkGeek Trebuchet Kit is counter-weighted by 78 pennies (also, not included) and has a range of around 20 feet. Both kits are pre-cut and pre-drilled, and require gluing during assembly. All you need to put these little ones together is strong fingers, a cutting tool and the glue. But you can go bigger for an additional cost that's not much more than a box or two of .45 acp hollowpoints.

Here's a Floating Arm Trebuchet that you can build.Also Pre-cut and pre-drilled, with computer cut pieces for tight engineering, this is a functional model standing 34" tall, 18" long and 12" wide when built. The guillotine-action and a plunging beam can hurl a golf ball over 200 feet. Nice! It has detailed instructions complete with diagrams and equations for calculating the machine's efficiency with lots of photos.

You can't hide this in your cube, but you can take take it out on the deck.
I think I have an idea for our next cookout.

* From the 13th century writing: "Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi"

There otta be a law?

I'm a little conflicted about this:
Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate today introduced a bill that would set baseline security standards for the government’s purchase and use of a broad range of Internet-connected devices, including computers, routers and security cameras. The legislation, which also seeks to remedy some widely-perceived shortcomings in existing cybercrime law, was developed in direct response to a series of massive cyber attacks in 2016 that were fueled for the most part by poorly-secured “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices.
Mostly, I don't think that there should new new laws for almost anything.  But readers know that I've been ranting about the lousy security of the Internet of Things for a long time (I see you roll your eyes at me).
The IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2017 seeks to use the government’s buying power to signal the basic level of security that IoT devices sold to Uncle Sam will need to have. For example, the bill would require vendors of Internet-connected devices purchased by the federal government make sure the devices can be patched when security updates are available; that the devices do not use hard-coded (unchangeable) passwords; and that vendors ensure the devices are free from known vulnerabilities when sold.
This seems to me to be exactly the way to approach this.  The Fed.Gov buys a bunch of stuff, so much that they can (and often do - see FIPS 140) get companies to add security to their products.  After all, the Fed.Gov doesn't have to buy anyone's products if they don't think they're fit for purpose.  Since a lot of IoT products are based off of the same software stack, there's a good chance that a lot of consumer products would pick these up since it's cheaper for the companies to support a single stack for everything, rather than a government one and a consumer one.

And then IoT companies will start competing with pure consumer competitors based on security.

All in all, this seems like a reasonable approach.  It's a carrot, not a stick.  Hard to see how it would make things worse.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Don't use your debit card anywhere except your bank's ATM

I've liked to use my debit card - it's like cash, only without the bother of carrying around cash.  It turns out that this is getting dangerous - "Skimmers" are devices that thieves add to point of sale cash registers and to ATMs that record the Debit card account number and PIN.  The thieves then use this to clone ATM cards and drain bank accounts.

Skimmers are getting quite sophisticated and can send data via cell phone text message (i.e. to thieves anywhere in the world).

Brian Krebs has a hair raising post about how these work and you should definitely read the whole thing.  Gas pumps in particular are being targeted, but this could be done anywhere.

Your credit card company will cover you if the Bad Guys swipe your card number.  Your bank will probably cover you, but it might take a while and you'd go through a whole lot of hurt until they did.  Use your credit card for purchased, and treat your debit card like an ATM card (and only use it at your bank, which will have much better security for the ATMs than other businesses will).

Another "benefit" of "green" power

South Australia has committed to "renewable" energy to a degree that is not seen anywhere else on the planet.  So much power comes from solar and wind that the electricity grid has become unstable, with a massive state-wide blackout last year and ongoing fears of a repeat.

Well, the Experts have come up with a solution - shut down a car plant and throw 13,000 people out of work.  Alas, this is no panacea:
South Australia's forecast maximum operational demand, which usually occurs when air-conditioners kick in on very hot afternoons in summer, is expected to fall to 3,035 megawatts by 2021-22. 
The current maximum demand is 3,116MW.
Nevertheless, AEMO is forecasting widespread shortfalls of reserve power over the next two summers, prompting the State Government to invest in temporary generators.

There must be some more good paying jobs that can be killed off to usher in the Green Rapture.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Sea Story on Bicycles

Any story I could about those West-Pac deployments is suspect. Doubly so since it's been 35 years since it all took place. Here's a story of one bicycle trip, one day, as I remember it.

As any good sea story starts, this is no shit, I was there.

Tim, Frank, and I took off from Iwakuni, riding south along the coast. Our goal was to reach O-Shima, ride the road that encircled the volcano, and ride back. It was 17 miles to the island, the loop road just around the main volcano cone is 22 miles, and 17 miles back. An easy day trip.

The ride down was uneventful. It was a clear sunny day. Turning on the island there is a beautiful bridge, high above the water. We got onto the loop road and started around. Frank was riding an older bike, functional but not great. Tim had a new bike, a European style road bike he had bought in Japan. I had an Italian road bike that I had managed to mail to myself in pieces before we deployed.

I had done some touring in the States. Beaufort S.C. to St. Augustine, Florida. A week long loop ride in the mountains of North Carolina. Lots of weekend trips and day rides. Which, as foreshadowing, had lead me to replace some things. Better wheels and tires. Better brakes, with brake pads designed to dissipate heat. A nicer saddle. Cycling gloves.

Part way along the loop, we saw a small road that turned in and went up. Up we went. Soon we weren't riding. We were pushing. It was steep, a series of switchbacks that looked out on fruit orchards, with no railings. Each turn was a 40 to 50 foot drop to the field below. Call that some more foreshadowing.

It eventually came out in a small parking lot. There were some signs in English. In a small cave was a Buddhist shrine that the sign said was one of the earliest known Buddhist shrines in Japan. Some stone lanterns. And a dirt trail that continued up. We left the bikes and hiked. We had gained some altitude from the sea but spent most of the afternoon to do it.


We climbed out of the woods into the late afternoon sunshine about 2300 feet up from the water. The view was spectacular.

 

We watched the sun set into the islands and the sea, then hiked back down to the bikes. It was still light when we got to the bikes and I said, "See you at the bottom!" and launched. It was fast, a long straight run, then a switchback. Speed up, hit the brakes, turn, and do it again. I slowed when the road leveled out and then stopped and looked back. No Frank. No Tim. I waited a minute or two, then put the bike against a telephone pole and started walking back up.

I met them walking down. Tim had crashed. His brakes, equipped with soft rubber brake shoes, had overheated and melted within a couple of switchbacks. Left with no brakes, his speed unchecked, he had made one switchback but knew that he was going to sail off the road on the next one. So he laid the bike down. His front wheel caught a groove in the road and flipped it over.

His brake pads were gone, his seat bent, his handlebars bent with one broken brake lever, his front wheel badly out of true, and his fork was bent.

More importantly, his hands and fingers were raw and shredded into the meat, he had bruises forming, and road rash here and there like a motorcycle accident. He was in some level of shock.
It was all somewhere beyond adventure. This isn't funny even 35 years later. There was a restaurant on the road near the bridge and we stopped, bought tea, and considered options. Tim calmed some and he thought he could ride.

I gave him my gloves. Put my front brake pads on his rear brake, and set the cable from the unbroken lever to control it. Frank sat on the bike while I yanked the forks back toward centerline and did what I could to the front wheel. It was rideable.

Frank went first. Tim in the middle. I took the rear because I had lights and the coast road always had some traffic. It probably took us two hours or more to make it back to the base.

We bought parts and I put Tim's bike back together. He healed up. We were back out the gate with our cameras in a couple of weeks.

The next time someone got hurt it was me.