Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Brian Krebs’ Spam Nation

Computer security journalist Brian Krebs ("Krebs on Security" here) signed books at Barnes & Noble in Austin on November 24.  Spam Nation is really about two nations: Russia and the United States.  Two criminal organizations dedicated to online spam and botnets, perhaps the largest in the world, work(ed) from Russia, targeting Americans. 

Brian Krebs started his presentation by acknowledging the four years he spent on the project.  He then thanked his publisher, editor, and associated researchers, and the cyber-crooks.  Both of them denied that they were engaged in criminal activity; and both have threatened to sue. 

It starts with spam, offers for Viagra, Gucci, and other big name products, especially pharmaceuticals and designer fashions.  The offers themselves are real enough, in that, apparently, millions of people are taking fake drugs and carrying fake handbags. 

About fifty security professionals attended.
However, attached to the offer is malicious software that takes control of your computer. Your computer becomes a zombie following their orders to infect more computers.  These networks of robots (“botnets”) flood the Internet with new viruses.  According to Krebs, the typical life cycle is 12 to 24 hours. As new creations, the programs successfully challenge anti-virus software such as Kaspersky and McAfee.

Eventually, the two criminals turned on each other.  They provided Russian law enforcement (and Krebs) with millions of stolen records.  One of them, Pavel Vreblevsky even got himself appointed to a commission to investigate computer crime.  (I note that in that, he was like William Chaloner and John J. Ford, who also played both sides of the game.)
When asked about security tools, Krebs replied that good procedures are the best protection.  Rather than trying to keep people out of your network, you need to focus on finding them once they get in.  Rather than spending money, sometimes millions of dollars, on tools that no one actually uses, it is better to hire good people to really use the tools your company now has. 

Krebs said to keep your personal and professional lives separate.  He recommended partitioning your operations with different computers on different services for different tasks. Have different VPNs (virtual private networks). Use layers of security.

Asked about the threat of a catastrophic attack on our information infrastructure, Krebs said that it is not in the interests of these criminals to harm our economy.  They want us to buy from them.  Disrupting commerce is unproductive.  Krebs suggested that a catastrophic event will come from a Wargames scenario where “some kid in his mom’s basement who will see a big red button and has no social understanding.”


Monday, November 24, 2014

Newton versus the Counterfeiter

Intended for a general readership, this book rests on an extraordinary foundation of careful scholarship.  Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009).
Thomas Levenson teaches science journalism at MIT. He has been granted special recognition for his Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentaries. Among those is a Westinghouse award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which he shared with co-producer Paula Apsell, for the 1992 PBS “Nova” presentation, Eclipse of the Century. In 2005, the National Academies honored Levenson with a Communications Award for his PBS mini-series production, “Origins: Back to the Beginning,” about evidence for the ontology of life. He knows science; and he knows how to present its difficult facts and complex theories.
            This lively historical narrative of criminology and jurisprudence animates Sir Isaac Newton’s career as a detective and prosecutor. Levenson delivers to print the videographer’s impact of sight and sound. Levenson introduces us to Newton in a series of establishing shots, pan-and-zoom vignettes that sketch and detail the events spotlighting the intellectual and emotional development of the man easily nominated as the greatest scientist. You walk down the alleys and into the pubs where Sir Isaac Newton investigated crimes against the British Royal Mint which he served as warden and master.
            Levenson opens the book by outlining Newton’s intellectual and emotional development. Complementing his work in mathematics, astronomy and optics, Newton also experimented with alchemy, performing purifications and alloys of metals. Emotionally, Newton’s isolation was rooted in self-abnegation. The hint of a homosexual dalliance comes as an instantaneous action, the lifelong reaction to which only distanced his social relations to ethereal planes. You could get no closer to Newton the man than you could to the Man in the Moon. Thus, this combination of unflinching pursuit of difficult theoretical and empirical truths, bulwarked by a stellar disregard for other people’s feelings made Newton the perfect prosecutor.
Newton portrait
by Enoch Seemar 1726

            The counterfeiter, William Chaloner, was Newton’s opposite. A runaway apprentice whose first lawful skill was making nails, Chaloner found London to be a probabilistic cloud of moral relativity whose potentials suited his self-indulgence. For William Chaloner, counterfeiting coins was only one craft in a wider enterprise. In the language of the day, Chaloner called his swindles “funning”. He funned the Mint with counterfeit coins, and the Bank of England with fake paper, both bank notes and drafts. When his counterfeit notes were discovered, he turned informant, not only avoiding prosecution and prison, but being granted £200 in reward. Accused by informants of counterfeiting, Chaloner won the first courtroom skirmish, humiliating Newton. Consequently, Chaloner erroneously considered himself Newton’s equal; and his complex, long-range plans were but moves in a game designed to give him access to the Mint in order to coin for his own profit.

            Before Newton, the posts of warden and master were only sinecures for the favored who then further stocked their own larders at public expense. They were not exceptions. Married to sisters, the master smelter and the assay master were brothers-in-law, living beyond the limits of their official salaries, inferentially guilty of conspiring to pass debased silver into the official coining operation. The vector that impelled Newton’s trajectory was the sale of dies from the Mint to counterfeiters on the outside.
            Whether Newton’s career as a detective and prosecutor is “unknown” is putative. While most readers here probably know of his Three Laws of Motion, his work at the British Royal Mint is less often taught. Biographer David Berlinksi (Newton’s Gift: How Sir Isaac Newton Unlocked the System of the World, New York: The Free Press, 2000) called Newton’s tenure at the mint uninteresting. Numismatists, who study the forms and uses of money, feel differently. 

Levenson acknowledges the works of Sir John Craig. Craig’s book, Newton at the Mint (Cambridge, 1946) is catalogued by the libraries of both the American Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Association. Levenson also cites two other Craig monographs, "Isaac Newton—Crime Investigator", Nature 182, 149-52; and Isaac Newton and the Counterfeiters, 18 Notes and Records of the Royal Society 2, 136-45 (1963). When I proposed a review of the Levenson book to the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, editor Wayne Homren shot back: “How does it compare to Craig?” Levenson draws on the same sources as Craig: Newton’s papers, the mint archives, court records, a biography of Chaloner, Chaloner’s own petitions and letters. Where numismatist John Craig presented the facts, videographer Thomas Levenson brings them to life.
Merchant Token 1791 Middlesex
1penny; size larger than
US quarter dollar.

            Nonetheless, graphical animation can be dangerous. Of Newton’s meeting in a pub with an informant, Levenson says, “The detective swallowed his irritation.” (P. x.) Did he?  Was that recorded?  “For Newton’s part, this first encounter with Chaloner did not register very deeply.” (P. 157.) The storyteller’s power depends on many such inferences and inventions. The salient question is: Does the poetic license that is extended to creative non-fiction jeopardize the truth? 
            Of course, we have the compiled confessions of the accused and the accusations of informers whom Newton interrogated. Yet, those folios are decidedly incomplete. We know that many were burned. To explain why official records were destroyed, Levenson leaves the main narrative to establish a historical context for the use of torture in interrogation, a subject of some immediacy to us. Newton could not resort to extreme methods, but the actual tactics are lost because the documents were burned according to the reports of Sir Isaac Newton’s secretary.
            Whether William Chaloner was factually guilty may never be known. It is accepted that William Chaloner did not get a fair trial. “Chaloner was sentenced to death, very fairly on his record, unjudicially on the evidence …” (Craig, 1963; P. 143.) Levenson concurs. William Chaloner was accused of crimes committed in London. “And yet Chaloner faced charges brought by a Middlesex grand jury, being heard by a Middlesex trial jury. How could such a court, Chaloner asked, address crimes committed outside its jurisdiction?.” (P. 231.)
            Our modern experience with wrongful convictions throws a harsh light on the testimonies of jailhouse snitches, casting shadows of doubt. Yet, those informants were the only source of Newton’s evidence against Chaloner. Prima facie evidence is easy to accept. Chaloner probably was guilty, but certainly did not get a fair trial by modern standards. Moreover, our sociological context also condemns much else of that time and place. We do not horribly execute counterfeiters. Chaloner was drawn and quartered.

            As a casual read, the book can be enjoyed in a couple of hours. No reference numbers or inline citations encumber the text. The Notes are all in the back with concordance by page number and key words. Some readers will find profitable cause to linger there and reflect.


Sunday, November 23, 2014


Right now, 20 states have active defense forces. Their organizations and responsibilities vary, but, generally, they serve as technical and operational support for the state national guard. They provide response to public emergencies such as weather or man-made disasters.  They cannot be federalized; and they do not [usually] carry weapons. -- [edited 15 March 2017]
Green states have their own units
(March 2017: Oregon, Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama, 
Connecticut are all inactive.  Massachusetts is a
ceremonial honor guard only.)
From oko.ohmr.ohio.gov
 While prior military service is common in the ranks, it is not a requirement for enlistment.  Ohio is exceptional in conducting annual physical fitness tests, including  push ups, sit ups, a one mile run, and measurement of waist-to-hips ratio, for active deployment.  Here in Texas, you can join at 65 and serve until you are 70; and you can be extended by special orders.

Maryland recently created a cyber defense unit.  In addition to a medical regiment, Maryland volunteers can work in engineering, finance, information technology and communications, legal, religious, and logistics and supplies.  Some Maryland Defense Force civil affairs cadres work as interpreters. 
 “The Ohio Military Reserve is a component of the Ohio Adjutant General's Department and serves under the governor as commander in chief. Its primary mission is to provide a fully-manned and mission-ready civil support and sustainment brigade to support the state's Emergency Support Function 6 (mass care) and Emergency Support Function 7 (logistics and resource support) during natural or man-made disasters or other threats to homeland security. In order to accomplish this mission, OHMR units are trained in medical support, volunteer reception and management, shelter management and logistics support in addition to basic soldier skills. Our core competencies are training to National Incident Management System (NIMS), Military Emergency Management Specialist (MEMS), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards.” -- http://ohmr.ohio.gov
Several states, such as Ohio and Maryland, point to old traditions of citizen militias.  Ohio became a state in 1803.  The Maryland Defense Force claims roots in the 17th century.  (Their website does not mention the war with Pennsylvania.)  However, the modern state defense forces are identified with the Militia Act of 1903 (Militia Efficiency Act or Dick Act), which reorganized the state national guards and defined more closely when they could be federalized. 

U.S. Code Title 32 Chapter 1 Section 109 (1916) empowered the states to create their own guard units commanded by the state governor. The Federal government activated the Maryland National Guard to the Mexican border in 1916, along with the national guards of Massachusetts, New York, Iowa, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.  World War I brought federal mobilization of all the national guards, creating the need for the home units. (Wikipedia “State Defense Force” here.  Also US Code archived at Cornell Law School and with attributing footnotes at Versus Law.)

“The Dick Act prohibited states from retaining their own militia systems. Ohio was one of the states that chose not to follow the federal mandate and [chose to] maintain such a force. A principal reason for the continuation of the Ohio Militia was the desire to protect Lake Erie. There was no Naval National Guard.” http://oko.ohmr.ohio.gov/join/info_about.php
As in many other states, here in Texas, our state guard  is under the adjutant general’s office, along with the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.  The Texas State Guard Air Component is primarily a weather service, and also trains for a wide range of other duties. Unlike the other branches - Maritime Regiment, Army Component, and Medical Rangers – the Air Component [often] drills with their active guard counterparts.  

The Texas Maritime Regiment operates dive teams and boat operations for search and rescue and other tasks.  They serve along the salt water coast (367 miles) and the river waterways (4400 miles of major bodies and perhaps that many more lesser rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and bayous).
The Maritime Regiment specifically embraces the unique structure and traditions of America’s Naval and Marine forces in preparing troops to carry out  duties related to Texas’ land, marine, littoral and riverine environments. In the interest of creating the most effective response team, TMAR has forged working relationships with various groups such as the U.S. Coast Guard, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Forest Service, and the Lower Colorado River Authority.  The Regiment‘s members are true volunteers who willingly accept military discipline, orders and training to answer the call to meet urgent human needs in times of peril or crisis.”
Generally, across the states, you are a volunteer and cannot be required to deploy. Most states ask for a commitment of a weekend a month. Here in Texas, the promise is at least three years of 200 hours per year. Some drills are only one day. If you are prior military (about half of those enlisted or commissioned), you usually bring your last grade with you. Civilians usually have supervisory experience and often a college education.  Grades ("ranks" private through general), are assigned at first on that basis. 

The TSG operates evacuation and sheltering centers
in times of natural and man-made disasters. 
Among the missions of the Texas State Guard are:
Mass care/Functional needs care 
Emergency communications 
Special needs evacuation tracking 
Wide area damage assessment

As a volunteer, you are not paid to drill and train. You supply your own standardized and specified uniforms and equipment. Here in Texas, when deployed for an emergency, all personnel receive $121 per day, sometimes with a food allowance of $35 per day, regardless of component, grade, or rank.

[Subsequent to the July 16, 2015, terrorist attacks in Chattanooga that targeted soft military sites - a recruiter and a supply depot - the Adjutant General of Texas was not alone in applying state law and allowing concealed carrying of firearms for those who are so licensed.  You cannot display any weapon you were not issued, but you can have a concealed firearm subject to a permit. Here in Texas, only a magistrate or a peace officer (defined in the state constitution) can ask if you are armed and ask to see your permit.]

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hail Merry Desserts

Hail Merry desserts give you satisfying, flavorful experiences because they begin with the purest ingredients; and then they are dehydrated at low heat, rather than being baked to death. They also deliver their sweetness with herbs and spices rather than relying on bulk sugars.  

Hail Merry's marketer, Colleen,
at Whole Foods Arbor Trails, in Austin

This avoids the key problem with low-this and non-that foods, especially desserts: those make up for it with other stuff that is not so good for you, like guar gum, xantham gum (from broccoli rot), carrageenan, canola (oil from Canada), and more pure organic cane sugar than you could suck out of a sugar cane.

Texas native Susan O’Brien majored in design and went to work planning clinical laboratories. At mid-life, after studying with Hollywood's raw foods chef, Juliano Brotman, Susan O’Brien established her company in Dallas. (She grew up in Grand Saline and has family in McAllen.)  O’Brien took on two partners, Susan Palisi Chapin and Alison Brushaber, who brought their big company experience to the start-up.
The company logo is based on the chess queen,
rendered in the style of wooden dolls
created by 
architect Alexander Girard.
 The Hail Merry desserts - Miracle Tarts (Meyer Lemon, Chocolate Mint, Chocolate, Persian Lime,  Almond, and Coconut), Macaroons, Grawnolas, Nuts & Seeds, and more – are available at Whole Foods and other grocers.  The company also sells direct to anyone in consumer-sized wholesale lots of a dozen. 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happy Birthday, Paul

My brother is in the hospital getting a Dacron aorta.  A simple arm strain injury at work led him to discover that we have the same genetic defect: coarctation or stenosis of the aorta and a bicuspid valve.  Mine was corrected by surgery (just the pinch, stretched, not Dacron; and not the valve) in 1956.  Medicine has improved. Certainly people have.  No one ran marathons in 1956; and he has run several.  Lately, however, he could not make three miles, so he says that he should have known…
After he started working on this,
and was living in California, Paul took acting lessons. 

After a lifetime on stage, he said the lessons helped.
He performed the work in clubs several times.  

Sketches of Dorian Gray trailer
The sibling rivalry we accepted as normal as children would not be tolerated today.  My being three years older and often 150% of his weight, it just was not fair.  When I went off to college, he had more growing space.  He also signed up for the wrestling team, picked a fight with me, and pinned me in one move.  So, that settled that. 

Episode One

He qualified for Cleveland Public Schools major work (“super normals”) program, which I did not.  Also, he actually practiced the piano, which I did not.  He had the insight to choose the violin while I picked the coronet.  So, he could get over his mistakes quietly, which I could not.  He became a musician. 
"Grey Haired Rats" -- Playing piano in a rock band sucks. I've had just about every kind of electric piano ever made. They all stink. More than once, I've had to play some strange approximation of a piano provided by a stupid promoter. One time the piano was 175 feet from the stage. (No you can't move it). Once the "piano" was actually an organ (Hey, it's got keys, what's the problem?) On top of that, keyboard instruments were ridiculed by just about everyone in our crowd it seemed. Too much like British prog-rock or worse, the Doors. Peter Laughner once told me pianos are OK, sometimes, but the pedals are only for squares.  -- THE STYRENES
 by Paul Marotta, Scat Records liner notes here.
We both held many jobs over the years.  He spent more time selling and less time on trucking docks, but, as Ayn Rand said, all work is an act of philosophy.  Eventually, he made vice president at New World Records, and even got a seat on the board before he was fired.   The Nineties were an interesting time.  We thought they never would end.  But they did, on September 11, 2001.  

Episode Two

Work got hard to find, so in 2005, my wife and I returned to school to complete the four-year degrees we never needed before.  When Paul saw how easy it was for me, he returned to earn a bachelor of arts in literature at Purchase College in the SUNY system.  He needed the vacation from life.  His wife had died far too young from cancer.  He was uncentered.  Time out for school was a good choice. 

He spent some time in California.  Now, he is in Massachusetts.  He has a new significant other - and a new heart.

Episode Three

You can browse for “Paul Marotta”, though like “Mike Marotta” you will find many. We are not dentists.  These YouTube links will help. 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Painted Papers" Offers Artisan Wraps

We met Debra Flanagan at our neighborhood Whole Foods when she gave us an origami turkey that she made from one of her handcrafted wrapping papers.  
talks to a customer at Whole Foods.

Her coatings adhere non-destructively to standard clear ("scotch") tapes. So, the tape does not tear the finish and the paper can be reused.  Many other creative projects can integrate these unique papers. Debra Flanagan paints her specially-made papers by hand. The paper is sold by the roll (26 inches by 72 inches, more or less) at local Austin craft stores, artisan events, and Whole Foods markets.  She has an email address, PaintedPapers@Yahoo.com, but no blog or website.

You can read more about her at the Clarksville Pottery website here. 

Clarksville is a neighborhood just outside of downtown Austin. Founded by freedman Charles Clark in 1871, Clarksville is the oldest surviving post-Civil War freedomtown west of the Mississippi River.  Wikipedia here.)


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Austin's Chinatown

By the middle 2020s, Austin will have more Asians than African-Americans.  Austin already is a town without an ethnic majority. Moreover, the texture of the Asian groups is changing.  In the middle 1980s, most Asians here were Chinese and connected to the University of Texas.  Granted that the demographers differentiate Taiwanese (7.9%) from Chinese (12.2%), nearly a fifth (18.1%) of the Asians are Vietnamese, giving them substantial visibility. (City of Austin data PDF here.)  The city even tracks their family names, mapping the Trans, Nguyens, and Phams (PDF here).   

Fu, Lu, and Shou,
the three gods of traditional folk religion
representing Happiness, Prosperity, and Longevity
stand under the welcoming gate.

The City of Austin notes: "This highly entrepreneurial population has opened new businesses, purchased restaurants, made loans available to its network and acquired real estate." In fact, in her essays and book on "Bourgeois Virtue" Deirdre McCloskey goes into some detail on how co-ethnics within a wider culture create these community networks. They exemplify many of the fundamental virtues of commercial culture, including the importance of reputation and the willingness to trust.

Southwest National Bank. The doors are in
Chinese characters, Romanized Chinese
and Vietnamese: Ngân hàng quốc gia

Across the street from the Southwest National Bank
The first character means da "big" (a man with arms out).
The second character may be "auspicious".
The last two compounds are yin hang "bank" 
= silver (metal under mountain) 
+ capable, to do.
 "Amazingly, by the middle of the next decade, the number of Asians in Austin will more than likely exceed the number of African Americans.  While the general population of Austin doubles every 20 to 25 years, the number of Asians in Austin is doubling every ten years." (City of Austin "Top Ten Demographic Trends" report here.) 

Formulas for Success
Shooting the Roadhouse Relics Gallery
Jaime's Salsa of Austin

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Coins and Stamps

"Coin collecting" is properly called "numismatics"; and numismatics encompasses military orders and decorations, merchant tokens, paper currency and banknotes, bank drafts, stock certificates, and much more, including literature about the money objects and the people who made and collected them. So, too, is "stamping collecting" properly called "philatelics" or "philately"; and within the latitudes of philatelics you will find covers ("envelopes"), post cards, cancellations, and literature including the biographies of postmasters, collectors, and dealers.
The Plate Block
 is a set of four near the number
that identifies the printing plate
Unlike coins and banknotes, stamps were invented as and intended as consumables.  That created an inherent opportunity for new designs.  Interestingly enough, the nation that started postage stamps was perhaps the last to break free of a predictable series, almost entirely of definitives with the ruler's cameo and the value and little else.  

Greece has several series honoring her classical coins.
Left Pythagoras on a coin from Samos. Right Rhodes.
 Postage stamps as we know them today were instituted on May 1, 1840, in the United Kingdom after several years of advocacy by Sir Roland Hill and Robert Wallace (MP), and independent efforts by James Chalmers.  (Wikipedia here.)  

Dominca honors the first stamp.
Israel remembers the Temple shekel of the Bar Kochbar Revolt.
Also, to the point, while postage stamps do have tendrils in the past, their invention is a recorded event. The first coins are less well attested.  We do know the oldest examples; but we have no clear idea why they were invented. 
Hungary (left) commemorated the guilder of King Laszlo,
one of several in this series.
Monaco remembers
a Double Grosso of Honore the Second
also one of a series.
Like coins, stamps are most often more valuable in "mint state."  However, a mint stamp has no history; and a cancelled stamp does.  With cancellations, we do know the time and place.  Some philatelists pursue cancellations as a speciality.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Those Helpful Apple Store Geniuses

The greeters at the Apple Store reminded me of deli clerks in Manhattan. I expected a smile and “How can I help you?” and instead they barked, “Whaddya want?!”  Though they did not bark (or bite), the Apple Store greeters were at best matter-of-fact telling me that I was in the wrong line; and then telling me that I was early for my appointment, so come back in 30 minutes.   Be that as it was, I was happy by the end of the process.  However, the Barton Creek Square mall Wi-Fi attacked my computer with unlimited pop-ups forcing me to shut down.  I found refuge inside the Apple Store; and fortunately, by then, it was time for my appointment. 

Busiest store in the mall
 Getting frequent messages that my version of Safari was no longer supported, I went looking for an update.  Nowhere on http://www.apple.com/safari/ did I find any link to update the software.  So, I went to the Apple Store.  The geniuses there showed me what I should have remembered: updates are under the Apple icon at the upper left of the menu bar.  And my version of Leopard would not take the updates anyway.  So, we scheduled an appointment for the next day. That night, I went to Best Buy and bought a Seagate terabyte external drive to back everything up just in case. 

I came back the next day and was treated like a prince, once I got past the greeter.  The geniuses were patient, attentive, helpful, pleasant, and informative.   I got a Lion operating system (free), and updated all the software.  They were not able to resolve my failed relationship with Preview. 
iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, new or old, they know them all.
I have no way to do with the Macintosh what I can do so easily with Microsoft Paint.  The Mac once was a pretty good graphics machine, but now what it does best is play music.  If you read the blog here about Post Cards, (or scroll down) each of those front and back images stands alone. I have no way to get two into Preview, group them, and save a single file.  I have this problem with much of my work in numismatics where obverse and reverse, face and back, are so important. 

But the kids at the store are not responsible for that.  And they did try to help.  So, I have no complaints.  I would go back any time.  In fact, I am looking forward to returning to buy the new Microsoft Office 2015 when it comes out. 

Update  November 7:  That was Tuesday and Wednesday. Today, Friday, I returned to the Barton Square Mall to replicate the problem and to capture screens.  However, I could not. Perhaps my upgrade to Lion and the two upgrades to Safari in the last two days gave my computer the strength to resist the zombie pop-ups of Simon Properties.  Perhaps it was something else.  In any case, I feel more secure about being in the Barton Square Mall with my computer.  Also, I found that with PowerPoint (though not with Word), I can get two images on one page, group them, and save them as a single picture.