Remembering my People

Tonight is All Souls’ eve. The QBCPS tradition for this evening is to have our family dinner and, during dinner, we go around the table and tell stories about our loved ones who’ve died. But this year, we are all in different places. I’m at home with the creatures, the Goddess is at a sleepover, and Junglemonkey is hosting a celebration in another town. She’s got people and she’s got photos and I know she’s going to tell the stories for me there. But I still want to tell the stories myself, and the Internet is here. So I’m telling you, The Internet, and I’m telling the creatures.

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Going Anonymous

A friend posted a link to this story about the crypto and anonymity tools Edward Snowden used to communicate with journalists before his big reveal. It’s an interesting read, by itself, with lots of links out to various privacy tools. One that especially caught my attention was Tails, an operating system that, “you can start on almost any computer.” I had to check that out. Sure enough, after a couple of failed attempts, I was able to get it going on my MacBook Pro. It’s exciting!

But what does it really do? Well, it doesn’t actually solve any of my problems. I don’t have any secrets that need protecting in that degree. The evil guys who can get at my data are governments, and the data they can get at are things that they could get anyway, whether I use Tor or not. Still, I like that Tails exists. I like that there’s an operating system that I can run on a Mac or a PC, whatever’s to hand. It’s an operating system and application suite assembled for paranoid/secure operations. I like that if I ever should need such a system, I’ve got it handy.

If you want to try it out yourself, here’s some advice that isn’t on the Tails website: have a recordable DVD handy. The thing that you download from the Tails website is a disk image and you need to burn that onto the recordable DVD. There are instructions on how to install that image directly onto a USB drive, but they didn’t work for me. The way I got it to work was to burn the image onto a DVD, boot from the DVD, then use the Tails installer that’s part of the system tools to install Tails onto a USB drive. Note that although the image is about 1 gigabyte, the installer won’t work unless the USB drive you’re installing onto is at least 16 gigabytes.

Morning News

This morning’s news brief was just full of delightful bits. My head is whirling.

We have the story about the Russian government performing cyberespionage. This will probably surprise someone; not anyone who has been checking their spam folder over the past 20 years, but yeah, the Russians have lots of programmers who write malware.

And then there’s the bit where someone pointed out that we’re not really ready for humans to go live on Mars: Study: Mars One human colony plan ‘unsafe’ and ‘unsustainable’. My reaction of, “Well, duh, I said that when I first heard about the plan,” is tempered by my respect for the scientific process. One might intuit a great many things, but until one tests the hypothesis and collects data and analyzes the data, it’s just supposition. So, cool to see that someone has done the work.

The best bit, though, is the one where the end caps on those guard rails that are part of every freeway everywhere in the U.S. don’t so much collapse and divert cars, as they’re supposed to, but impale them. Good for Virginia, I say, for getting on the job and removing those things.

Restricted Knowledge

I’m not really sure how to tell this story. I’ll start with the event that got me writing this post, but there’s a lot of backstory that explains why I even started writing, and then there are my observations of my changed thoughts and feelings about the phenomenon. It’s untidy in my mind; it doesn’t make a clean narrative.

Today’s observation: for the second time in as many days I saw a phrase on Facebook: “Ladies (and non-binary folks)”. It struck me that “non-binary” somehow has a meaning of which I’m unaware, and context suggests that whatever it means, I don’t belong in whatever category of humans it describes.

Backstory: when I was in my early twenties, I had this idea that all knowledge and all fields of endeavor should be open to all humans. I was offended by the idea of “women’s work” and “men’s knowledge,” considering such categories as oppressive as “whites only” facilities. I briefly dated a woman who, among other things, was big into herbal medicine. She had some herbal abortifacient that she was preparing for someone and I asked her about it and she told me it was none of my business, that it was women’s knowledge, and there was no good reason that I should know it. At the time, I was outraged.

More backstory: I’m a white man. I grew up in a secure economic environment. I had no trouble getting an education, nor really any long-term trouble getting a job. So, I’m a member of the privileged class, and I always have been. I have this ideal of equality that means I encounter people telling their own stories about coming from a place of less privilege and I am sympathetic, but I know that I don’t have equivalent experience and that I can’t really say anything useful about their stories.

And now, my evolved position: there are some discussions in which it is not helpful for me to contribute. While I still feel like it’s wrong to categorically exclude all men, all women, all people of <fill in the color> from any profession or access to a particular book, I also feel like it’s best to consider first whether agitating for access is even something I want. Do I have anything useful to say on the topic of black women’s experience in academia? Not really. Nor do I feel like I have any enlightenment to offer in many other situations. There are terms that I encounter that are utterly mysterious to me — “intersectional feminism”, “non-binary people” — and now instead of feeling offended at being cut off from the conversation, I feel relieved. These terms are code and they are reliable markers of stories and discussions to which I have nothing useful to contribute. Check it out! There’s a conversation where I don’t have to worry about untangling what’s going on and then trying to come up with something insightful to say! It’s not about me. That, right there, is a gift.

Retro Bubble, Order’s Up!

I just read this article that says that Angela Merkel wants Europe to have its own network. Now, maybe I’m not understanding the story, and maybe the reporter didn’t understand what the chancellor said, and maybe the chancellor doesn’t understand how the Internet works. But it seems to me that if a laptop in Berlin connects to a German ISP and sends an email to a French ISP and that email goes from the French SMTP server down a link to a laptop in Paris, there shouldn’t be any trans-Atlantic hops to that trip.

I totally understand how everyone in the world who isn’t an employee of the United States security apparatus is cheesed off and paranoid about the NSA’s compulsive spying on every bit that crosses a U.S. territorial border. Yep, that’s uncool. And, sure, if that laptop in Berlin is sending email via Gmail (or Hotmail, or Yahoo! mail) or is conducting commerce with Amazon or FedEx, then eventually those bits will cross into the U.S. and become part of a hard drive that U.S. spooks are peering at. I guess that’s the scenario that Ms. Merkel is trying to avoid.

So, rather than go to the trouble of building a whole new Internet that doesn’t have the United States on it, which would require either severing all contact with the U.S. or running a huge (metric) fuckload of fresh cable, how about the E.U. just do the time warp and have their own version of the dot com bubble? Pretend it’s 1996 all over Europe and instead of using Google and Amazon, maybe they can develop their own ecommerce industry. I know that a few places are trying.

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SmartThings and the Recirculating Pump

A couple of years ago, we got a recirculating pump to run the hot water line from the master bathroom back to the water heater so we could get actual hot showers. The pump came with a built-in timer so that we could schedule times for it to run. That’s swell if you live by the clock. But what if you take a shower at different times of day, or at times that are unpredictable? What you really want is a button or a switch in the bathroom (at one end of the house) that will turn on the pump (at the other end of the house) for long enough to get hot water (say, five minutes or so) and then turn it off. Continue reading