The Paris attacks and the Intelligence Community’s Renewed Attack On Internet Crypto

There are a number of stories circulating about calls from the intelligence community to backdoor encrypted communications in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks by ISIS. Some of these stories personally blame Edward Snowden for these attacks.

The desire for the powers that be to have access to all means of communications is not new. In fact, government surveillance of telecommunications without a warrant dates back to the telegraph.

Wanting to monitor enemy communications makes sense from a tactical standpoint. Knowing what your enemy is communicating gives you a tremendous advantage on the battlefield. The problem with monitoring everything is that it violates the rights to privacy of literally everyone. That means that in the war on terror, everyone’s 4th  and 5th Amendment rights are collateral damage.nsa_taoSignals Intelligence is important, make no mistake. It can also be a boondoggle. Like computer forensics, intelligence offers you a tremendous number of tools that you can employ to gather all manner of information, but if you are looking in the wrong place, you can end up allocating a lot of resources and end up with not much in terms of useful or actionable information. Case in point, the East German Stasi who spied on so many of its own citizens and missed the warning signs that the Berlin Wall was going to come down.

One notable bit of info from these stories is that there could be some sort of ISIS help desk available 24×7 to assist with subverting American surveillance, which I think is pretty funny. It conjures to my mind the image of a young jihadist wearing a headset and being yelled at by a heavily armed cleric who is insisting that “I don’t need to turn it off and on again!” Finally there is a tech support job that must suck even more than working for doctors 🙂

My [In]Famous Mac and Cheese Recipe

I was asked for my recipe for mac and cheese, and since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I would post it here. I make this old-fashioned mac and cheese casserole at holidays on on birthdays for family and friends. I don’t make it very often, not because it’s difficult, or all that expensive, but simply because it is absolutely terrible for you. This isn’t creamy mac and cheese, it’s a dense baked pasta that you slice, similar to lasagna.

So make this recipe at your own risk!! Also eat small portions, and maybe have a salad or some other green vegetable along with it. I have seen family members bemoan their wrecked digestive systems as they cut another helping. This dish can quickly shift from comfort food to discomfort food. You’ve been warned 🙂

You will need:

a large pot and

a large casserole dish (4 qt.) with aluminum foil OR

a 5 qt or larger dutch oven (you can boil the macaroni and then bake it in the same dish, but placing the pan lower in the oven will mean a browner outside)

a colander

1 box of elbow macaroni, 16 oz. in size

2 bags of shredded cheddar cheese, 8 oz each

1 bag of shredded mozzarella cheese, 8 oz in size

1 stick of butter or margarine, 4 0z

2 eggs

1 cup of milk

garlic, salt, and pepper to taste

optional: non-stick cooking spray

To prepare:

Preheat the oven. If you like brown/burnt cheese set it to 300 degrees if you prefer stringy/gooey cheese set it for 250 degrees.

Boil the macaroni until slightly over done, this keeps the pasta from getting dry and chewy when you bake it.

Drain the macaroni thoroughly with a colander, then return to pot immediately. If you are using a pot and a casserole dish, I recommend using the pot and not the casserole dish for this step. If you are using a dutch oven, I recommend melting the butter in the pan and making sure it coats the sides of the pan, or just spraying the pan with non-stick cooking spray before putting the macaroni in.

Add  the stick of butter and stir until the butter is melted and the pasta is coated. If your mac went cold during the draining process, you can put the pot on low heat to help the butter along.

Add the salt, pepper, and garlic. Keep in mind that the cheese is salty, and your butter might also be. Personally, I skip the salt, but don’t be shy with the garlic 🙂

Add the whole bag of mozzarella cheese to the now buttered and seasoned macaroni and stir until evenly distributed. I used to layer cheese and macaroni, but i don’t think it made much difference in the finished product.

Now is the time to talk cheddar. If you are looking for a thick browned layer of cheese on top of the casserole, you can skip this step. However, if you want a more uniform cheese experience (with the occasional crunchy macaroni noodle on the top) add one whole bag of the shredded cheddar cheese and stir it into the macaroni. If you can’t decide, just add half a bag of cheddar (4 oz) and stir it in. Be confident in your decision, it’s hard to mess up a recipe with this much cheese in it.

If you need to use cooking spray on a casserole dish, now is a good time to spray it. Non-stick measures are important, because for some folks, that crunchy brown outside is the best part.

Transfer the macaroni to your casserole dish and spread it evenly.

Now is an important step that I forget all the time. In a small bowl or measuring cup beat your eggs and milk thoroughly. The resulting mixture should look like something a bit too runny for making scrambled eggs or french toast. If you find your macaroni is dry, use more milk next time. Drizzle the egg mixture over the macaroni making sure to distribute it evenly. Most of it is going to run to the bottom, which is what you want.

Now is the time to add the cheese. Dump all the cheddar you have on top of the macaroni and spread it across the top, making sure to cover the corners. In our house, people would fight over the corner pieces, so I have taken to using the dutch oven. Make sure the cheese gets to those edges though. that’s the good stuff.

Also, if you are just now realizing you forgot the egg and milk mixture, you can add it now, just make a few holes in the cheddar layer and pour the egg mix in. Then carefully tilt the pan to each corner to distribute, being mindful that you are holding almost 3 pounds of slippery noodles and shredded cheese.

If you find that your mac and cheese comes up over the top of dish a bit, it’s OK. It will settle into the pan a bit as it cooks. If your lid/foil will be touching the cheddar be sure to spray the inside with cooking spray. Don’t use a lot, it can go brown and leave a weird taste on the cheese.

Cover the pan with a glass lid or aluminum foil. Remember to spray the inside if it will touch the cheese.

Now it’s time to bake. Cooking times can vary. If you are looking for brown cheese, bake it at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes. If you are looking for gooey cheese, bake it at 200 to 250 degrees for 40 minutes. Either way, you should hear the mac and cheese bubbling.

Once you can hear the mac and cheese bubbling, uncover the mac and cheese and cook it until the top reaches your desired brownness. This can be as little as 10 minutes or as long as 20, so check it every 5 just to be safe.

I have no idea how many people this dish serves, but it’s a lot. It also reheats well, and is even good cold.

I have tossed around the idea of using spinach and tomatoes in this dish to make it slightly healthier (or at least help me not feel so guilty about serving it to my family) but the family always talks me out of it.

I didn’t choose the conlife, conlife chose me

welcome_to_defconI just got back from having a wonderful time at Wizard World Comicon in Louisville. A couple of years ago, I was was pretty active in the hacker community, attending hacker conferences like Defcon and giving talks at smaller conferences like Notacon, Nolacon, and Skydogcon. My involvement has led to some great friendships, and to opportunities to do crazy things like appear in a rap music video.

In the past couple of years my wife has become seriously interested in sci-fi cons, and so most of my free time has been wrapped up in that for the last couple of years. I won’t say that it’s better than attending hacker cons, but it’s definitely less exhausting. When I get together with hackers, we tend to get super drunk and engage in various shenanigans. When I hang out with my wife at sci-fi cons, I still drink and have a lot of fun, I just don’t seem to have multiple concurrent hangovers and exhaustion to boot. This trip to Louisville was especially great because I got to meet most of the cast of Arrow.

imageI am a big fan of Arrow. There are some real parallels with Batman, but they are mostly superficial. The primary difference is that because Arrow is a TV show, there is way more exploration of the characters, their interactions, and their stories. Of particular interest to me is the number of strong female characters. Felicity Smoak, Sarah Lance, Nyssa Al Ghul, the list goes on. The show is full of women who fight beside and against men, and they often, but not always, come out on top. It’s not perfectly gender equal, but it’s a real accomplishment for a prime-time TV show about a male superhero. I also love John Diggle, because I feel that he represents how someone like me would react to finding himself in the DC universe. He is a warrior in his own right, but he is suddenly facing threats from supervillains, metahumans, and magic. He also falls back on his military training, for better or worse, until he learns to embrace the insight of his teammates.

So on this trip to Louisville, I got to go to panels and stand in line at the celebrity walk, and all the usual things you do at a sci-fi con, and then on Saturday night something amazing happened. While having drinks at a hotel bar, my wife got a Twitter alert about Stephen Amell being at a dueling piano bar, of which there is only one nearby. Within seconds she and her fangirl pals took off. Not only did they ditch me, they left me with the check 🙂 When I caught up to them, most of the cast of Arrow were on stage singing karaoke. I was able to shake hands with Paul Blackthorne and Steven Amell, and I managed to get a picture with David Ramsey, the actor who plays John Diggle. I also engaged in some other shenanigans with John Barrowman, but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let that do the talking for me 🙂

Goth Remixes of The Chipmunks. No, seriously.

This came across a feed of some sort today, and I have been obsessed with it all day.

Basically, if you play a Chipmunks album at 16 RPM you get pretty cool 80’s goth/sludge metal/industrial tracks.  Let me say that again: you can remix the Chipmunks into industrial-goth tracks.

It’s an audio experience that has to be heard to be believed. So far my favorite is “Walk like and Egyptian”:

It reminds me of “Goodbye Horses” which was made famous by the film “Silence of the Lambs” where Buffalo Bill put on lipstick, and then tucked his shit between his legs and posed in front of the mirror:

My second fave is “My Sharona”:

This track captures the full analog sound that is an old album on an even older turntable, full of pops and fuzz. The sound also makes the song sound sort of haunting. It also has a minimal sound, sort of like “Suck” from the Pig Face album “Gub” which featured Trent Reznor on vocals before anyone cared who Nine Inch Nails was:

The track that singles itself out as unique in my book is “Always On My Mind”. It’s unique for a number of reasons. The sound design is interesting to say the least. Plus it has plenty of cowbell, which is always a plus:

After listening to these tracks all day, I super hope that there is a Christmas album coming 🙂