Tag Archives: NSA

Dispatches from “Restore The 4th” Cleveland

Hope you all had a lovely extended Independence Day weekend (my neighbors were shooting off fireworks late last night). But where better to spend July 4th than on the shores of Lake Erie, in a place that I’m told on good authority “rocks”, Cleveland, OH?

As many of you know I spent the day with friend and fellow blogger, Brian D. Buckley at the “Restore the 4th (amendment that is)” Rally in Edgewater Park, Cleveland, OH.

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Interestingly Brian’s sign got far more questions about what “TMI” meant, than “My Bytes Have Rights”.

About 40-50 people were in attendance overall, covering a 100 yard or so stretch of road inside the park.

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As first outings go, this rally had all the components one might expect from active political protest:

  • We got lost, both on the way to Cleveland and inside the park; The first because we missed an exit due in part to orange barrels and playing “Friends” trivia, and the second because our marker for finding the protest was “look for the tall lanky guy in the red shirt” not “we’re next to the only statue in the park.”

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  • There were of course the usual petitions for legalizing pot, and hacky sack. From what I could see the sack was competently hacked.
  • There were communists (I resisted the urge to sing the Beatles “Revolution” until they were out of earshot).
  • There were fundamentalist Christians, who in spite of wanting an amendment that put God’s law above the constitution, were exceptionally polite.
  • There were beards (mine included).
  • At least one girl came to the party wearing the same dress.

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  • And there were hecklers. Well, heckler. Apparently our standing at the side of the road not chanting or singing (except a little back and forth of “Every Breath You Take”), ruined this man’s day. And for that, I am very very sorry.

Overall everyone was exceptionally supportive and positive. Except Brian, who apparently didn’t want to be anywhere near us (that’s the lady Buckley holding the restorethefourth.net sign).

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When he wasn’t inching his way down the road he was engrossed in his reading:

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That’s Buckley for you, really knows how to show a girl a good time.

Seriously, this was a lot of fun, and a great opportunity to hang out with friends, exercise a few first amendment rights, and your upper body. It’s a bit windy by the great lakes, and a sign is basically a three foot sail (Props to the lady Buckley for the solid signage construction).

Have a great Monday!

PS. Thanks also to “the little red haired girl” who was amazingly supportive despite not feeling well and her husband deciding to go the day before.

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Where I Am A Few Weeks Later

I didn’t have an immediate reaction to the NSA story, in fact I picked it up a couple of days late.

Some of my friends have reacted with anger, and some have already created a resistance movement. Those who are outraged by the fact that the NSA has been tracking our every internet move believe you should be angry too. It’s unacceptable to be agnostic on this issue, to have the “meh” reaction so many of us have had. “I’m not doing anything wrong so why should I worry” or “I always assumed this was happening anyway.”

For me this hasn’t been a story it has been quite so easy to get outraged about. There’s a couple of things I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks, some assumptions I’ve been challenging while I try to figure out how to feel and what to do.

For starters I have always assumed the job of President is harder than anyone but the men who hold that job can know. We’ve seen it too often where a candidate makes promises for transparency, or specific actions to change some policy the public doesn’t like, and when the candidate gets into the office it doesn’t happen. We can assume that all politicians are disingenuous, and I believe many of us do, but I also think that they get a wake up call to the world as it really is when they sit in the Oval Office. There are realities of this world that the government, the intelligence community and the military do not want us to know, because they don’t want us to be cowering under our desks in fear in every day.

There has been some effort by Congress and the intelligence community to show us some of this reality, to show us all of the plots that PRISM has stopped. But we are still not convinced. After all, no matter how much data this thing was gathering it did nothing to stop the Boston marathon bombing, or any one of a number of gun related tragedies in the past year. To me this is not that surprising. The undertaking that PRISM is attempting is big data in it’s biggest sense (I had to look up what a zettabyte even was). Most predictive software (from Netflix recommendations or Google searches) requires a lot of data, time, and specificity. Predicting a terrorist plot is not a simple of an algorithm as predicting which movie you might like. Of course PRISM doesn’t always work.

I know it’s an idealistic assumption to believe that the government and the intelligence community always has our best interests in mind, and I don’t really believe that. At best I might believe that the average behavior of individuals in the NSA and contractors like Snowden is positive, that some can and will abuse their power, while others will only seek the public good, and that the good tends to outweigh the bad.

The other assumption I’ve been challenging is the one from the “meh” reaction. We already allow ourselves to be tracked on the internet by social networks, by online retailers and by search engines. Google’s been storing all my e-mail for the past 4-5 years (and I know that delete doesn’t really mean delete). I hope they won’t read it, but I know they could. Future employers look at our facebook pages, and all other vestiges of our online presence to get a sense of whether we’re a good employee, or one who likes to party every night. There are lots of justifications for why Google and Facebook tracking us is okay, and why the NSA thing is so much worse, but I don’t think we should kid ourselves.

But just because we are tracked doesn’t mean we should just give up. While I do think it is important to maintain a certain brand image on the internet, to control as much of what you are saying and what others say about you as we can, we equally need to be able to say whatever we want. The approach I take to this problem is technological, and in some future posts I’ll talk about private web-browsing and encrypted e-mail. To me that’s what you can do right now to protect your privacy. We can challenge the government, demand transparency and change, and we should but I have a feeling if we cut one head off this hydra, another will rise up to take its place.

So a word of advice in place of a conclusion. Check out the Tor Browser. And maybe try EnigMail. Help those who fight to keep your data private, and have been doing so long before you knew about PRISM. And reflect as well as take action. The battle for the privacy of our data has been going on a long time, and we’ve generally been surrendering without a fight.

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A Treat for the NSA

Given the news about PRISM and the widespread monitoring of our phone calls and internet activity, I think we’re all in need of a little break. But we whose privacy has been invaded are not the only ones who have been working hard. After all, NSA agents have been working tirelessly for years to spy on our data. This post is for them, my most loyal blog readers, who’ve been here since the beginning.

Find the mathematician’s target:

Why not put those 5 zettabytes to work on a little fractal puzzle? Below are five longitude and latitude coordinates for various cities around the world, encoded in Julia set images.

If fractal math wasn’t part of your training here’s a quick primer. Each image is generated by choosing a complex constant c, which is made up of a real and imaginary component. I’ve mapped the real component to east-west coordinates (west is negative, east is positive), and the imaginary component to north-south coordinates (north is positive, south is negative). Obviously to get good images I had to scale the coordinates, but you should still be able to narrow it down to a few possibilities. After all, what’s the point of drawing a fractal in the middle of the ocean?

Here’s the quadratic Julia equation for reference:

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Need a hint? Two of these pictures are cities where loyal blog readers live. One is the future birthplace of a very important human being. Another is the holy land for those who enjoy a certain childhood toy. And I’ve already given you a hint on the last one.

Now no cheating by looking up my search engine history. Besides I used an alternate search engine named after a failed version of windows, and not the one named after a Friends character.

Find the hidden message:

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Here’s another puzzle for you. I’ve hidden a brief text message in this picture using steganography (you’ll have to click the link to get the actual file). Need help on the password? Well I’m sure even the NSA has diversity policies, but even with your massive computers you won’t be able to figure out infinite combinations.

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Since you probably are reading everything I write anyway, why not take a moment to express your opinion? Use the handy widget on the right side of this blog to get even more personal access to my life. And don’t forget to buy a copy of Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach, coming soon.

And speaking of shameless plugs…

As you are no doubt aware, I work in the data center industry in my day job. How’s your new million square foot data center set for UPSs? How about a PDU, Chiller or just some good old fashioned monitoring software? I promise we won’t record and analyze your data.

Happy spying!

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