Now I’m on their List, for sure!

August 7, 2014

Last night I went to see NSA representative Anne Neuberger at the Long Now Foundation seminar in San Francisco, with my friend Joey Tuttle.

It’s clear that Anne was carefully chosen as a spokesperson for the NSA. As much as I believe in her proclaimed personal desire to reach out to the public, the public relations choreography was Disneyesque in proportions. She began by explaining how much she valued freedom and privacy, as a first generation American whose relatives had known the oppressive regimes of Soviet satellites and Nazi Germany, but that other relatives had been on a plane that was hijacked by terrorists, an episode which they miraculously survived. Hence illustrating her understanding of the need to balance security with privacy. Which is nice to hear, about this one individual.

She also waxed maudlin when talking of those who “died in silence” protecting our country. OK, I get it. The work can be thankless and dangerous, and necessary even.

But that still doesn’t address the burning questions of the day, particularly revelations from Snowden which proved that James Clapper had committed perjury, a felony for which he has experienced no serious consequences. And that the NSA persists in engaging in dubious practices that continue still to compromise the privacy and security of millions of innocent Americans. And it doesn’t let the government off the hook for so vengefully pursuing heroic whistleblowers who have laid their lives on the line to defend the American principles of liberty and freedom.

By ‘compromised security,’ I refer to the fact that the NSA has intentionally weakened encryption standards, and given themselves back doors into the computers and devices of innocent Americans. Back doors which could potentially be discovered and exploited by malevolent individuals other than the NSA, if not voyeurs at the NSA itself.

When this question came up, Anne gave a non-answer, saying she was not at liberty to discuss specific programs.

For me, the best moment was when she was attempting to defend ‘transparency,’ and advised us that we could simply use a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request if we wanted to know something. The remark was greeted with a long and well-deserved round of laughter from the whole audience.

As an employee of Thomson-Reuters, the first I heard of Wikileaks was when I received an email from Tom Glocer, who was then a higher-up at Reuters, explaining that now we knew what had happened to the Reuters reporter who had disappeared in Iraq. That would be, my co-worker. The FOIA request had languished unanswered for many months by the Obama administration, as many such FOIA requests do. Had it not been for the heroism of Bradley Manning, we might never have known the answer.

I concluded after watching that disturbing footage, as most people would, that it had been withheld, NOT in order to protect national security, but because it was an embarrassment to the administration that innocent civilians were being slaughtered in such a cavalier manner.

In summary, thanks to Anne for showing up, but this is a tiny dewdrop in a very large bucket. It’s true that we need security (which includes not making so many enemies abroad) and that it needs to be balanced with the need for liberties. And I approve of her idea of finding ways in which these goals can be in harmony.

But to suggest that we’re even close to a healthy balance right now is ludicrous.

While I would very much like to see open dialogue between the NSA and the people, I’m not holding my breath that anything short of embarrassing whistleblower recommendations will yield any results.

As for the general population, they’ll probably either forget about the issue of trust when the news cycle switches to the latest on Miley Cyrus, or continue to wallow in conspiracy theories about chemtrails and Area 51 as they would in any case.

here are a couple of links on the presentation:


April 12, 2014

The heartbleed exploit has been getting a lot of press, but so far it’s only theoretical. The white hats who have tried haven’t yet succeeded in exploiting it.

Correction – according to this link, it has now been successfully exploited.

Here’s an explanation of heartbleed, courtesy of XKCD:


By all means, do change your password once you know the website in question has fixed the exploit, if they had it.  (Banks for example, typically don’t use openssl, meaning they weren’t vulnerable in the first place)

Use a different password for each account. Use keepass to keep track of your passwords.


But what about … if you use Amazon in a coffeeshop it’s child’s play for someone to hijack your session and see the last four digits of your credit card. Which are the digits that Apple uses to confirm a remote wipeout of your computer and iPhone. All gone. Not just theoretical (although the attack vector in the below case was slightly different)

a good layperson article on session hijacking:

If you don’t see https:// in your browser bar, and you’re on a public network, assume that anyone can see what you’re transmitting and receiving on the network. Generally, password entry pages are protected with https:// but subsequent pages may or may not be. This has been an enormous problem with Yahoo mail. There seem to be a number of automated exploit scripts out there that will spam all of your connections on your behalf.  They have switched to using https:// for their mail, after several years of leaving this gaping hole open, but I’m still suspicious of their attitude about security.

Never use Amazon in a coffeeshop.

Gmail is cool.  Facebook CAN be set up to use a secure connection. I can’t find it in the settings anymore, so maybe they’ve made it the default. Anything from Yahoo is bound to be a huge security hole (e.g. Yahoo new, Flickr), though they are getting better. So avoid using Yahoo on a public network, or at least log out before you leave.



Links for Getting Published

March 31, 2014

For anyone who is serious about getting published via traditional means or self-publishing, here are the links I recommend.  If you think you might want to try this in the future, check these out now.


Traditional Publishing

Our story thus far : unless you are a wildly successful author, submitting an unsolicited manuscript directly to a publisher will get you nowhere. What you want to do is submit a query letter to an agent, who will then represent you to publishers.

That means figuring out (a) how to write a good query and (b) knowing who all the good agents are. The below sites should help get you started: - Lots of good information and explanations on this site.  You’ll want to read all of the articles at the upper left under the caption WRITERS. Any agents worth contacting are going to be listed on this site, and you can search by genre, &c. A good starting place to understand the basics of the publishing industry.  - Preditors and Editors lists all kinds of entities related to publishing, with some information on each one. Including “Recommended” or “Not Recommended,” indications worth noting.  They have more advice on sending queries. - Both amusing and informative, this site will teach you what to strive for in writing a query. (also, what NOT to strive for). I would even say that it’s a good study in what works or doesn’t in concept for writing a book.  Did I mention that it’s often hilarious?  When you get REALLY serious, I’ve heard this site is worth the $25/month subscription. – if you’re looking for a good way to procrastinate, these are also hilarious. The goal is to write the worst possible opening line to a story. If you find your own opening line as one of the winners, you may wish to consider some revisions.


Major Publishers

The following are the five biggest publishers in the U.S.  The top one on the list (Penguin/Random House) is bigger than the next four combined.

  1. Penguin/Random House (We think they should have called themselves Random Penguin)
  2. Harper Collins
  3. Simon & Schuster
  4. Hachette
  5. MacMillan



If you would rather “self-publish” than go the corporate route, please be sure you understand the difference between a Vanity Publisher (who will rip you off) and a legitimate Self-Publishing house. Articles discussing these differences can be found here and here

Legitimate Self-Publishing companies include: (note: if you finish writing 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month, you’ll get a couple of free proof copies from them)

Legitimate E-Publishers include

Self-publishing is fun if you want to have something in your hands right away and share it with friends, but if you’re aiming for wide distribution, you’ll have a lot of extra stuff to do that traditional publishers take care of for you. (e.g. hiring an editor, and cover designer; handling distribution and marketing).





NOTES: Character is King

March 2, 2014

These are my notes from the San Francisco Writer’s conference, 2014

The Lecture “Character is King” by Dave Corbett.  Saturday 2014-02-15. The handout is here:

The 5 aspects he lists are

  1. desire
  2. layers of adaptation
  3. vulnerability
  4. secrets
  5. contradictions

He draws out the list in the above PDF in several different ways.

1. Desire

I missed the 1st section, so starting on #2:


2. Layers of Adaptation

  1. pathological – hallucinations; eg. the movie “Repulsion” by the director of Chinatown (i.e. Roman Polanski)
  2. immature – e.g. blanche dubois from “streetcar named desire.” She is living in a fantasy.
  3. denial – acting like it isn’t happening
  4. mature – humor, altruism

3. Vulnerability

  • Pursuing an objective [masculine] – e.g. Blanche pursuing being able to stay with Stella
  • listening [feminine]

somebody wounded elicits the reader’s sympathy

type of wound:

  • existential – physical illness or literal wound
  • situation – alone in a strange town
  • moral – they’ve done something everyone will judge them for

side note ‘dramatic irony’ seems to be the voice of the time (meaning: the reader knows something the main character doesn’t).

4. Secrets

“Swing for the fences”

a secret can be small, with a big cover-up


5. Contradictions 

work if one can find the connection between them in the character




  1. Problem
  2. insight
  3. decision based on insight


(I guess this is what you would call character development!)



I’m excited that you’re reading this

October 10, 2013

Blame corporate buzzspeak for this if you like, but the term ‘excited’ merits its own policy in my life.  ‘excited’ and ‘leverage:’ when I reach either, I stop reading. 

If one doesn’t stop, one usually proceeds to some of the driest, most insufferably boring content conceivable.  “I’m excited to announce that…” followed by dull and irrelevant mountains of verbiage next to which drying paint is a thrilling action-adventure movie.

We most commonly receive such missives from our higher management. Some workshop on inspiring the unwashed! pounded this advice into their little brains: “No matter what the announcement, employ the word ‘excited.'” We now must focus on leveraging every day and every way the beneficial possibilities for reaching out to consolidate on our best strategy… how they go on like this baffles me. Nothing untrue, nothing useful.

Which has given me long hours puzzling “What is it they find so exciting about these tedious details? How could they find ‘excitement’ in such commonplace nonsense?”

Until I saw scientists reacting to discoveries on mars.  “We have found rocks!!” It made them so excited! So worked up! And me too, honestly.  I love good science, and the fact that they can discover meaningful things about geology so far away has a certain thrill to it.

Commonplace things become exciting when they’re on mars. 

Which is when it hit me: It’s because they’re from another planet.

I mean, our upper level of management who send us these mysterious messages. We’re being guided by aliens.

It explains many things.



October 1, 2013


Nevada nuclear test site, Easter 1992

through the fence, cross-country

October 1, 2013

through the fence, cross-country

Mercury, Nevada, Easter 1992

capture the flag

October 1, 2013

capture the flag

Mercury, Nevada, Easter 1992

protester being removed

October 1, 2013

protester being removed

Nevada test site, Easter 1992

The Desert, 1992

October 1, 2013

          The full moon hung eerily over the fire of dinner camp.  A Jazz trio consisting of acoustic bass, drums, and portable keyboard provided spooky austere harmonies, interspersed with haunting off-time melodies.  Three tall posts lashed into a tetrahedron at one corner of the food tent, had crude strips of cloth tied to the top of each as banners.  As I watched flags fluttering wildly in the intense gusts of cold wind, I felt like I was on a Pirate ship, huddled with fellow outlaw strangers dressed in all kinds of flambuoyant garb.  “Two cities,” I think, gazing at the town of Mercury, a mile or so down the road,  glimmering directly beneath the North Star.
          Two cities: Mercury, the small military town for the sole purpose of facilitating the nuclear tests, with a bowling alley, a post office, a chapel, a tiny park consisting of a few trees, and a swimming pool, next to a small but effective airstrip, used for helicopters and jet planes.  And, Hippie-ville, where we stood, unbathed, sunburnt, old, young, clean-cut, dreadlocked, Shoshone, Black, White, Rainbow, Green, Hemp-loving, Hemp-dreading, Guatemalan and African clad, with drums & accordions and guitars, lined up for the free meals supplied by “Food not bombs”.
          In between, visible in the starlight, the front line: the cattle guard which divides “Safe” from “Caught” in the “capture the flag” game which follows, on one side the Protestors, and on the other the Sheriffs and Wackenhuts.
          In an hour or so, the full moon will rise to light up the sky and the desert.  But now, the night is so dark that it seems every single point in the sky is is a brilliantly shimmering star.  The city and the airstrip are lit up, beneath the North Star, with the “W” of Cassiopea to the left and the Big Dipper above to the right.  Beyond the city lies the mountain, and (invisible behind the mountain) the testing site itself, rumored to be full of craters two miles wide.
          A woman approaches, as we both stand listening to the jazz band, outside the circle of people waiting for food.
          “Amazing,” says the woman.  “You can see Orion, The Big Dipper, Cassiopea, and the Pleiades, all at once.”  
          “Really?”  I respond.  “Which one is the Pleiades?  I know it’s the first constellation astronomers determined the speed of using Red-shift, but I can never find it in the sky.”  
      “Over there, that kind of blur.”  As she stands closer to point, I can see that she is an older woman in glasses and a bandana, who reminds me of someone who goes to my church.  She smiles warmly as we converse about the stars.
          “Do you know, do the Wackenhuts sleep there at night?” We are staring at the city of Mercury.
          “No, they ship them in every morning on the bus.”  


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