4th of July Post

Posted this on Facebook today and felt like cross posting it here.

I feel obliged to post this after seen all the posts in my timeline connecting patriotism with the US military. There are ways to express love for your country without expressing a love for war or the machine that wages war.

Omitting an expression of support for your country’s military is not unpatriotic. Neither is criticizing it. The last three decades have seen the US at war in Libya, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq (again) and Libya (again). On what’s left of this independence day weekend, consider that citizens of other countries are patriotic too. Try to remember that we’re part of a global whole and every citizen of Earth has fears, hopes and dreams and they too are proud of their history and would prefer that it remain intact.

Consider that the idea that we keep American families working on peaceful private enterprise on US soil instead of dividing them through military deployment is also a patriotic goal.

Remember that a quarter of world military spending is what we spend on our own war machine.

There will always be evil in the world and fighting evil will always create jobs and new wealth and those jobs and that wealth are missed when they’re gone. But at what cost do we go looking for new wars? At what cost do we glorify the military industrial complex as part of what makes us American?

On what remains of this fourth of July weekend, remember that old maxim: That you should treat others the way you want to be treated. And lets instead celebrate our open culture, our freedom of speech and our freedom to choose who governs us, whether they wage war and how they treat others on our behalf.

Liars and Geniuses – Thoughts on Live Jazz

There’s something about Jazz live performance that has bothers me and I think it’s the audience. It’s the beatific smiles on many of the faces that last through the entire performance – smiles that remind me of a congregation in a church that know that it’s the wanting to believe that matters most, not whether it’s true.

It’s the guy in the front row with his index finger at shoulder height pointed at the roof bouncing it back and forth to a rhythm all his own.

Jazz performance appreciation – to truly understand live jazz greatness when you see it in the flesh – is the epitome of musical achievement. To understand how a group of musicians anticipate each other’s switching from one complex time signature to another, move fluidly and rapidly between keys and throw in a little used mode to add some humor or a chromatic run which morphs into another key – or to understand when the musicians are reverting to a jazz standard or improvising something new and truly great – to understand all of this, you have to be an accomplished musician. Someone who has spent thousands of hours either studying or performing or listening.

I think those that claim live jazz appreciation are either liars or geniuses.

I listen to Rock.

Where the term “Zero Day” comes from

After seeing a FOIA request earlier today that someone created asking for FBI training documents that teach staff how to understand/communicate using hacker leet-speak, I was reminded about something I’ve wanted to put in virtual ink for a while.

Leet speak or 133+ sp34k or hacker speak did not actually originate with hackers. Neither did the term “zero day”. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s the Internet was but a pup and most of us communicated via BBS – a dialup modem (often a bank of modems on popular BBS’s) attached to an individual’s PC that members dialed into to connect. [We also used something called Prestel or Beltel which was essentially a big government run BBS]

Phone calls were expensive in those days so if you wanted to connect to BBS’s far away – and at the time I lived in South Africa and the best BBS’s were in the USA – then you needed to become a phone phreak. So I’d fire up a piece of DOS software called Bluebeep (created by the venerable Onkel Dietelmeyer), hold a headphone to a phone mouthpiece, generate CCITT5 tones and take control of international phone trunks to get free overseas phone calls. [I'd also hack into the Post Office X.25 network to get access to an overseas modem (a DTE) which I could then control with AT commands. X.25 was a precursor to the TCP/IP Internet]

Then once you’re connected to the BBS you could upload, download, send email via fidonet and talk to anyone else online. My favorite hacker BBS was in Orange County, Californa called Digital Decay and run by a chap called Arclight. Little did I know that my future wife was also in Orange County busy being a college kid.

At the time underground BBS’s were divided into two types: Those that were hacking and phreaking related and those run by the warez crowd. The hacker/phreak BBS’s would distribute exploits, tools like Bluebeep to hack the phone lines, copies of phrack and so on.

The warez crowd would distribute pirated software and they took their job very seriously. 133+ speak originated with the warez crowd and the hacking/phreaking crowd hated it.

The term Zero Day also originated in the warez scene. On warez BBS’s software would be divided into zero day, 1 to 7 day, 8 to 14 day and so on with the lower ‘day’ being the most elite and hardest to come by. The number of ‘days’ was the days since the software was released to the public and Zero Day was software that was not commercially released yet. So someone had hacked into the company servers to grab their commercial software before they released it.

The relationship between the warez crowd and the hacking/phreaking scene was that the hackers would invent the means to get zero day warez (exploits used to hack into a company), the phreaks invented and continually reinvented the means for ‘warez couriers’ distribute the warez among BBS’s (ways to circumvent trunk seize tone filters the phone companies were using for example). Hackers and phreaks looked down on the warez crowd – even though we’d get software from them – which was a little hypocritical.

This was all around 25 years ago. At some point ‘zero day’ became something applied to vulnerabilities and the number of days a vendor has had to fix them. And at some point ‘133t sp34k’ became something hackers use. I have no idea why or when this transition occurred. 133t sp34k used to be scorned by hackers as something warez ‘pups’ did.

Times change. Like hashtags originating on Twitter where they indicated subject, which originated on IRC where they were channels – and which syntactically may have been inspired by C preprocessor directives.

Edit: Very cool discussion thread on HN about this – including some other old-schoolers checking in.

The Qantas A380 Engine Failure: The story of an ops team pulling through a crisis

[Thanks to 'evanm' on Hacker News, here's a link to the full documentary if you don't want the abbreviated versions below.]

As a low hours pilot I spend a lot of time reading NTSB reports and postmortems on flight incidents to try and avoid repeating the mistakes others have made or learn about how they successfully dealt with problems encountered during flight.

One of the most impressive stories I read about fairly recently was the Qantas A380 engine failure. I have a lot of respect for pilots who deal with crises successfully and for me Sullenberger’s landing in the Hudson has always been my favorite and most heroic story. Even though Sullenberger was facing a high workload during his engine failure, he focused on flying the plane and did a textbook water landing.

But what fascinates me about the Qantas A380 failure is it’s more about the team pulling through, especially the first officer. After the engine fails the first officer is confronted with a monster list of system failures that the avionics dumps on him and he has to very quickly work through each item. They eventually gain an understanding of the aircraft status and come up with an operational plan to put it back on the ground.

As someone who writes software for a living and used to be an operations guy, for me the Qantas A380 engine failure is the story of an ops team facing tremendous pressure with zero option for failure and incredible time pressure, and transforming a severely damaged system into something operational again in order to successfully shut it down.

If you have the time, I’d recommend watching this two part documentary which captures most of the story. You can tell from the first officer’s recounting of the incident how much pressure he was under at the time.

Why you should fly United Airlines

We just flew United from Portland, Maine to Colorado and will be flying back in the next few days. We brought 3 pets with us, 2 cats and our Australian Cattle Dog, Joey.

Their pet handling was awesome in the midst of a serious winter storm blowing through Maine with very cold icy conditions. My dog was well taken care of by the folks at United Freight in Maine (he flew with us on the same flight, that’s where you drop them off) and both cats flew in the cabin and there was plenty of leg room even with a cat carrier at our feet. The staff at Freight put us at ease and kept our dog in a climate controlled area (with visible air conditioning unit on the roof) while he waited to board our plane.

Everyone arrived safely but I left my $2500 macbook on the plane at DIA and with a significant amount of Bitcoin and 3 other digital currencies in assorted digital wallets on the Macbook.

I drove back to Denver International the next day and a United staff member went out of her way to recover my laptop from a locked box which was about to get shipped to central lost & found in Houston. She had already ended her shift and ended up running around the airport trying to find a colleague who had access to the box, which she eventually found and who managed to find my laptop. Got it back with all digital wallets intact and the Macbook in perfect condition.

So, thanks United. I’ll be flying you again with my animals and my valuables.

Linksys N600 Wifi Router doesn’t do Gigabit with Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet Adapter

I’m filing this under the “Things that suck” category.

My two mac’s when connected directly to each other using a Cat 5e ethernet cable connect at 1 gigabit/second.

Take the same cable and plug it directly into a Linksys N600 which is supposed to support Gigabit ethernet, and it’s stuck at 100 megabits per second.

Used the ethernet cable bundled with the router as well as my own Cat5e cable and no luck.

Guess I’ll buy Netgear from now on.

Post a comment if you arrived here via Google and had a similar experience.

Financial Journalists are not Revolutionaries.

Another financial journalist has republished first year econ theory to add their 2c to the Bitcoinosphere and make their press deadline. To summarize: Mr Coy wants you to understand what deflation is, that it’s a nightmare in an economy where debt exists, and that it slows economic growth to a crawl because everyone holds currency as it gains value.

I’ve taken an interest in Bitcoin not because I think it is a “new currency” or can “replace the dollar” or become the new “reserve currency” – all phrases you’ve seen bandied about in popular media. Instead I’m deeply interested and hope it succeeds because I think it may change the nature of currency itself along with the nature of humans.

Bitcoin challenges the notions that most financiers and business people in western economies cherish and take for granted. For example, the ideas that:

Continued economic growth, meaning a continued increase in economic activity, is imperative. 

and

Most consumers and businesses are in debt and that is a healthy way to be.

Lets take the first item. Continued economic growth is imperative. What if you’re Germany, Russia or Japan with negative population growth? [Source: U.N.]

Presumably the planet can’t support an infinite number of people. So all countries will naturally progress towards negative population growth or a stable population. It’s inevitable.

800px-World_population_increase_history

Since we all have a finite amount of energy to spend purchasing goods and services, the amount of economic activity will also plateau at some point.

So what if a new currency creates an incentive for the inevitable?

I’d also like to challenge the value system that dictates that more consumption is always good and less consumption is always bad. This has a significant environmental impact, one that is seldom mentioned. For example, the environmental benefit in holding off on buying that so called environmentally friendly new Prius in favor of driving your old car until it falls apart is huge.

The idea that “buying more things” is good for the environment is absurd. In fact buying less things and using your old things longer before you dump them is a much more environmentally friendly approach.

So with zero population growth and the inability of our planet to support consumerism, the idea that “economic growth” is good and imperative won’t be around in a few years.

What means of value exchange might a World with decreasing economic activity demand? Perhaps since you’re going to be holding on to your currency anyway in the face of decreasing economic activity, holding onto a currency that becomes worth more over time is a good thing.

Debt is seen as a good thing. It’s something that has become as embedded in our values as the idea that more economic activity is important and good. But philosophers since biblical times have warned of the dangers of usury and debt. Most western countries have laws against usury and yet still allow organizations that lend to sell usurious debt. If you don’t pay your visa card, the interest rate jumps to over 29% per year. But without inflation, no one will borrow. No one will pay Visa shareholders their fair share of wages.

Two millennia ago the author of Proverbs 22:7 [also appears in the Jewish book of Mishle] said: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”. As consumers we’re encouraged to go into debt as we’re encouraged to buy hamburgers or increase economic activity.

There was a time not long ago when:

  • Wise people saved their money.
  • Debt was seen as something as bad as gambling.
  • Reusing products was encouraged.

In a future world with low levels of debt and high levels of saving, where lack of growth in economic activity is not seen as a bad thing – perhaps a deflationary virtual currency that rewards savers, punishes debtors and encourages lower economic activity in favor of the environment is a good thing. Especially if it insulates us from the greed and corruption of those who influence monetary policy and money supply.

That is why I’m deeply interested in Bitcoin. Because it is and does all of the above. That is why I’m frustrated by Bloomberg, the Financial Times and many other traditional financial publications: Because they see Bitcoin through the lens of traditional undergraduate economic theory which simply reinforces the values we’ve come to take for granted. It doesn’t teach how to conduct an economic revolution and what the outcome might look like.

 

 

 

SSH config for OS X users to keep connections from dropping on MiFi and other mobile hotspots

If you use SSH and are often using your cellphone as a mobile hotspot, or use a MiFi as a hotspot, you probably noticed that if you don’t do anything in your SSH window for a while, the connection drops, usually with a ‘Broken Pipe’ message.

Suffer no more…

Create an ‘.ssh’ directory off your home directory in terminal.

Add a .ssh/config file.

Add the following lines:

TCPKeepAlive no
ServerAliveInterval 1
ServerAliveCountMax 99999999

Then go to lunch, come back and your SSH connection will still be alive and kicking without you having to reconnect. Enjoy.

Remembering Madiba

I’m at a loss of what to write about Madiba’s passing. I’m deeply saddened. If you’re expecting an email from me today, forget it. I’m at home, drinking strong beer and remembering the guy who saved South Africa’s ass from the fire of a racist government and post apartheid anger.

I was in The Parade (Cape Town central square at the town hall) when Mandela was released from prison in the early 90’s thanks to the deep political interest my parents had and the vision of realizing we would witness history by attending. I heard his first public speech after being released from Victor Verster Prison far in the distance. I couldn’t make out the words, but being there was enough.

And then we all watched him work a miracle that ensured that South Africa wouldn’t burn. That it would have a shot at prospering.

When I think of Madiba now the visual I have is C. S. Lewis’s Aslan.

Rest in peace Great Lion.

Why Banks are Declaring War on Bitcoin

What if we lived in a world where all transactions were person to person and cost almost nothing.

What if we lived in a world where the money you save gradually becomes worth more, not through interest, but simply because as time passes you can buy more stuff with the same amount of money.

What if debt becomes a very bad idea because, if you owe 10 units of currency today and the currency is slowly becoming worth more, then you would gradually owe more money. So no one would want to go into debt.

What if debt becomes a very bad idea because saving becomes a very good idea, because whatever money you have becomes worth more as time passes. It becomes worth more, not because it’s being exploited by a bank, but because more people want the same amount of money.

This is the world we’re headed into because that is how Bitcoin works. It’s a parallel universe for banks and one that leaves them at a massive disadvantage.

Bitcoin is not a central bank currency where money supply can be regulated by policy, policy that can be lobbied and manipulated by the captains of industry. Bitcoin’s money supply is governed by an algorithm, and that algorithm ensures that Bitcoin will always suffer from deflation. That means the rate at which Bitcoin money is created will slow down and eventually stop. So as long as economic activity (which dictates money demand) is slowly increasing, the currency will slowly become worth more.

Traditionally, deflation, where money becomes worth more and prices of goods and services fall, has been the economists worst nightmare. That is because when you have deflation, wages fall. Most consumers carry some sort of debt. If you owe $100,000 on your house and your salary drops from $50,000 per year to $30,000 per year, you’re in deep trouble. You start spending less, economic activity decreases and this fuels further deflation. An economy can end up in a deflationary spiral this way.

In the Bitcoin economy, deflation is built into the currency. That means it’s a very bad idea to borrow money denominated in Bitcoin because you’ll end up owing more and more as time passes and never be able to pay it back. But on the plus side, if you don’t go into debt and you decide to save, any money that you hold will gradually become worth more.

This is a nightmare for banks because they want you to borrow money so that you’ll pay interest on your borrowings and they’ll keep the spread between the interest that you’re paying and the interest that they paid to borrow the money they lent to you.

It’s a further nightmare because banks want you to open a savings account and deposit money with them so that you can earn interest on your money so that you can keep pace with inflation. If you don’t deposit money with a bank in an inflationary environment, your money will become worth less. But if you do deposit money with a bank, they will invest it on your behalf, they will earn interest, and they’ll give you a lower interest rate and keep the spread. So if you’re not putting money in a savings account because your money becomes worth more automatically through deflation, banks lose.

So to summarize, you’re not borrowing and you’re not putting your money in a savings account or investment account to keep pace with inflation, so banks have lost revenue from lending and from deposits which let them borrow short and lend long – one of their staple business models.

So where does that leave banks? Well, they could just spend their time facilitating transactions like Visa, Mastercard, The SWIFT network, Western Union Money Transfer and so on. But we’ve already said that with Bitcoin transactions are person to person and cost very little. Banks don’t even get that revenue.

And that is why banks are working very very hard behind the scenes to try and kill Bitcoin before it kills them. Here are some examples:

The banks that are most afraid are  banks in developing countries like South Africa, where transaction fees are far higher than first world countries. Fees are higher because depositors tend to be less wealthy and keep much lower balances, so to make up for the fact that there’s less money for banks to invest, they gouge their customers with high transaction fees. Developing countries also tend to have large migrant populations who send money home with services like “Instant Money” which allows for SMS’ing a code to someone who can go to a local supermarket and receive money associated with that code. The transaction fees for services like that are high and if Bitcoin becomes a more cost efficient replacement for both money storage and money transmission, banks in developing countries will lose out on a very lucrative business.

The war on Bitcoin has barely begun. The amount of ammunition that traditional banks have to fight this war is vast, because the ammunition is your money.

The early Internet was more free than the Internet today. Crypto currencies may be the most free they will ever be right now.