December 2007 Archives

Back From the Holidays...

As you may have noticed, I haven't posted for a bit... we were out of town, back to Minnesota for the holidays... well, we're back... exhausted, but back. I'll be posting some new stuff here later this week, once I get caught up on sleep, and perhaps shed a few pounds (too many cookies!). Lots of new and interesting things, so check back in a couple days for updates. :)

A Ridiculous Gift Idea

I'm sitting here, working on my grad school app essay, with Spike on in the background showing The Spy Who Loved Me, and a commercial came on for the "Corvette Dollar" - commemorating 100 years of General Motors. According to the ads, it's legal tender of the Republic of Palau, which has to make you think "wow, this is the collector's item for me!" :) They of course promise that this coin will never be in circulation (duh). But that's not what's totally nuts about this coin. It has a battery and LED lights in it that light up when you press the Corvette logo on the back! Totally hilarious!!!

Check it out here, if you're as curious about it as me. :)

Why the Major Airlines Annoy Me

The major airlines represent a relic of the past that have been artificially sustained by the government for far too long. There have been two such bailouts since 9/11, and I think I recall another in the 80s, too (though I can't be certain). The problems are myriad, but I wanted to rant about something that has irked me very recently...

Frequent flier programs... I hate them (as they are)! Case in point, due to my international gallivanting this past year, I've accrued over 50k miles on my United Mileage Plus account. Wishing to use them for a short holiday over Presidents' Day weekend, I attempted to find a use. Unfortunately, they're not interested in letting me use my miles - at least not for 25k miles per ticket. When a flight is available, it's only available for 50k miles ("standard" vs "saver" award), which would require me to purchase the second ticket, at a cost of more than $600. Seriously?!?

The problem is this: if I've flown so much as to accrue enough miles for a free ticket, then give me the stupid ticket. What's with limiting the number of award seats per flight? The limitation only serves to piss me off, and generates ill will against the airline. And it's not like the majors have much good will these days going for them that they can afford to blatantly piss off their customers. It's just patently ridiculous and, worse, it demonstrates an arrogant short-sightedness. They'd rather pass up filling 2 seats than to keep a customer happy, build loyalty, and take slightly lower realization off that flight.

Of course, herein lies the problem. The airlines are commercial, and often publicly traded. They're trying to maximize their realization based on old principles. There could be better ways to generate revenue (as other startups have demonstrated), but because of the prop-ups by the government, they're disincentivized to use them.

Ditching Thermogenic (for now)

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As mentioned here, I tried a thermogenic weight loss OTC drug recently. I decided last night, after 2 days on Cytolean , to halt use of it for the time being. It had a lot of caffeine in it that made me jittery, hyper, and cranky. I also noticed dehydration effects, with my MCLs, LCLs, knees, and ankles screaming. My workout yesterday seemed decent, with good energy levels, but the joint and ligament pain didn't seem like a good tradeoff. I might try it again after the holidays one my joints and ligaments feel better.

FISA Bill Withdrawn

Thanks to Sen. Dodd's filibuster threat, Sen. Reid has withdrawn the immensely ludicrous FISA bill update (that included unconstitutional retroactive telecom immunity).

Hat Top to Think Progress

Please, please, please - call your US Senators straight away! You can find their contact information here. Tell them that you do not agree to warrantless wiretapping, and that you are ardently and vehemently opposed to unconstitutionally granted retroactive immunity to government co-conspirators. Shawn provides an excellent explanation here about how retroactive immunity is illegal by the US Constitution, and he provides information here on how wiretapping has also been abused for surveillance on Americans related to drug trafficking. Lastly, check out this statement from the ACLU on today's disturbing news, as the updated FISA bill moves forward in the Senate.

This piece from the Star Tribune should give all people pause, including people of the Muslim faith. The U.S. Constitution very clearly provides for freedom of religion while stipulating that the state cannot promote religions (the old "separation of church and state" issue). The crux of the matter is that people should be allowed to practice whatever religion they choose without interference from the government, while at the same time the government is not allowed to promote any one religion over another, or in any other way give preference or precedent to a specific religion. The relevant clause is the First Amendment, which states:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..."

Assuming that the STrib story is accurate, it would appear that the community college described has taken matters too far, trying to provide excessive accommodations for one religion that would amount to preferential treatment that could be construed as promoting one religion over others. Personally, it's not the gender separation or requirement to remove shoes that's bothersome (other cultures advocate this, too). Instead, it's the presence of in-your-face materials that cross the line. To me, it should be a single room, possibly gender-separated, requiring shoes to be removed (this isn't all that big of a deal, folks), and with an explicit prohibition against any further indication of one religion or another. Ok, maybe an unlabeled arrow that points toward Mecca is a courtesy that could be provided, too, given an interior location. Although, frankly, isn't that what a compass is for? Just my $0.02...

Here are a few additional references on separation of church and state... they're worth reading, because this clearly isn't a crystal clear issue... this is perhaps one area where the Founding Fathers needed to be a bit more clear...

Wikipedia: Separation of church and state

AllAboutHistory: Separation of Church and State - The Metaphor and the Constitution Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings: Separation of Church and State

Jefferson's Wall of Separation Letter

Anti-Defamation League: Separation: Good for Government, Good for Religion

In case you haven't yet subscribed to my Google Shared Items Feed, here are a few things I've found of interest late this afternoon:

To other economic warnings, add inflation

Bali climate deal marks a geopolitical shift

'US backed' Turkish raids on Iraq

Trying a Thermogenic: Cytolean

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I'm not a fan of better living through chemistry. In fact, I firmly believe in weight loss and muscle gain through proper diet and exercise. But here in the real world, with a full-time job that requires sitting at a desk for 8+ hours/day, it's darned near impossible to get activity levels to where they need to be, and as for eating a proper diet, well... let's just say I have some weaknesses that are hard to discipline out after a long day staring at a computer screen.

To that end, in an assault on my abs, obliques, and emerging double-chin, I've decided to give Cytolean a try (product info here and here). The product was recommended by the local Vitamin Shoppe manager, so I figured what the heck, I'll see how it goes for a week. There are a couple reviews here and here.

The two main things that I notice are feeling hyper/jittery today, and that my mental acuity is through the roof (one might link my multiple of blog posts today to this first course of chems). We'll see how it goes this week, and if I'm able to get some sleep. I also need to get my workouts going better. As noted here, I'm trying to pursue a fairly aggressive workout plan into the holidays. Thus far, my body has only been able to handle 4 out of the 6 planned workout days per week. I've simply been too sore from the combination of kettlebells and deadlifting (in fairness, Pavel says one should alternate these programs every 4-6 weeks, not every-other-day). After the holidays, I'll try to decide on whether to focus more on gym time, or on kettlebells. If I wasn't afraid to drop the KBs on the floor, I'd probably just push an aggressive KB program. However, 32kg of iron dropping on a wooden floor in a top-floor apartment problem isn't a good idea, so I tend to play it conservative. Anyway, we'll see what I'll think of next.

Hopefully this little chem program will help things out... I'm tired of busting my hump and not getting noticeable results in the key mid-section area. That's the one place where I want the the fat to burn off, and it's the one place where it's not budging. Hence my decision to try this stuff out. I'll report more as time goes on here...

World Politics: Bolivia Falling Apart?

Hat tips to Tyler Cowen on Marginal Revolution and to The Economist for pointing out this interesting scenario that's garnering very little media attention. Bolivia's government is apparently on the verge of complete disintegration, with several states threatening to declare independence. For those who don't know geography, Bolivia is one of the two landlocked countries within South America (see Google maps here). About a year ago Evo Morales, a seemingly radical socialist revolutionary, was elected president (more on political history here at Wikipedia). His allies are trying to put in a new constitution, which seems to go against the previous democratic grain of the country. Socialism isn't new to South America by any means (e.g., Marxist Che Guevara was immortalized in the 2004 movie The Motorcycle Diaries).

It's interesting to see the ongoing struggles in countries like Bolivia as the pendulum swings back and forth. Many of these countries have the same problems as African countries in terms of building and maintaining a stable government, fighting corruption, and so on. If they find any solutions for corruption, perhaps the US will be able to learn a thing or two, rather than to continue institutionalizing it (thanks Bushies).

NFL Legends: Brady, Manning, Favre

By pure happenstance, I caught an excellent NFL Films special on ABC yesterday (Sat 12/15/07) called "NFL Legends: Brady, Manning, Favre" that was narrated by Tom Selleck. If you're a die-hard fan of the game, you've gotta be loving the performances these guys put in game after game, year after year. I can hardly wait for this to come out on DVD so that I can add it to my collection. If you get a chance to catch it in reruns (such as on the NFL Network), I highly recommend it.

Kurdish Iraq: When Success Erodes

Not that the Iraq invasion and occupation has been a particularly good omen, along with the myriad other bad things the Bush administration has done, but I consider it to be an even worse sign when the one area of reasonable success - Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq - begins its own death spiral. There have been rumbling in the news for the past month or so that Turkey was getting impatient with the Kurds, who have this crazy notion of autonomy and restoring their ancestral lands (a familiar theme for the Middle East in general, no?), and they kept threatening interdiction. The United States warned them against doing so, but it's not like we have any legs to stand on when it comes to unilateral action these days (thanks for that W).

So, now it's happened. As reported on VOA and CNN, Turkey has bombed Kurds well within Iraqi borders. Which then begs the questions:
- Why didn't the US respond to an aerial incursion?
- How will the US react publicly to this unilateral action?
- Given that the Kurds have been waging a quiet guerrilla war in Southern Turkey, what's the reasonable course of action and response?

I can just see the headlines now: "US downs Turkish fighter jets, NATO shrugs." Kind of an odd situation. What do you think?

We took the opportunity to attend the National Symphony Orchestra's annual Holiday Pops concert on Saturday evening. As usual (and possibly for the last time), the great Marvin Hamlisch conducted. There were marked similarities to the last such performance we saw 2-3 years ago, with Kevin Glavin playing a very familiar Santa Clause role and all.

The opening piece was a wonderful arrangement of "Away in a Manger" for which they turned all the house and stage lights down, then slowly turned up decorative lights throughout the staging, such as stars, wreaths, and trees.

I've just finished reading a rather interesting book on global climate change (or global warming for those who like the mass media). Lomborg's discussion is quite reasonable, whether you agree with his conclusions or not. In a nutshell, he calls for calm and rational, "sensible" discussion of the best way to approach improving civilization. He very much disagrees with focus and extremist propaganda behind reduction of carbon emissions, pointing to the IPCC's own report that indicates global warming will not destroy the planet, that curbing carbon emissions will not actually have all that great of an effect, and that these proposals (such as Kyoto) represent such an egregiously expensive approach to a less than worthy "solution" that it should be immediately discarded in favor of alternatives that actually improve society. I've quoted him below to better articulate his points.

Before I get to the quotes, though, I think it warrants pointing out the level of hype and polarity associated with this topic. Lomborg himself comments on it throughout the book; namely, that anybody takes issue with the carbon emissions reduction approach is immediately decried as a heretic. Ironically, Lomborg agrees that global warming is occurring and that science has reasonably linked the increases to humanity. Where he disagrees in the conclusions drawn by way of an action plan forward. With this I have to fully agree. This issue has become akin to the abortion "debate," wherein nobody is listening to anybody any more, but just taking one side or the other and screaming incoherently.

The EFF has sent out the following. I highly encourage folks to contact their Senators asap to let them know that retroactive immunity is not acceptable.

A make-or-break moment for telecom immunity has arrived --
after months of back-room committee-meetings, the FISA bill
will finally reach the Senate floor on Monday! The clock is
ticking and the upcoming votes will be critical. Email
your Senator now:

Almost two years ago, EFF filed suit against AT&T for its
illegal participation in a massive digital dragnet of
Americans' private communications. In recent months, the
Bush Administration has been pressuring Congress to
immunize telecommunications companies against this

Just a few months ago, immunity seemed like a forgone
conclusion. But last month, outcry from thousands of
concerned citizens like you changed the tide, when the
Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that didn't let
lawbreaking telecoms off the hook.

Unfortunately, a previously-reported version of the bill
that grants telecom immunity will be presented to the
Senate on Monday morning. This vote is our chance to strip
immunity from the bill. If you care about holding
corporations accountable for lawbreaking, and about
preserving privacy rights, now is the time to take action:


I've decided to trim back my infosec data sources as some of them have held decreasing value for me of late. The big change is that I'm reading most of my news through Google Reader, and so my desire to wade through piles of mailing list discussions has flagged. To that end, I've dropped three Security Focus mailing lists today: incidents, firewalls, and forensics. My biggest complaint was that these moderated lists were either feast or famine (though a malnourished feast at that). Moderators can help keep discussion on-topic, but if they're not attentive, then you get a slough of messages all at once. My other complaint relates to the high number of bounces from these lists. I responded to one post last week and proceeded to receive almost 2 dozen bounces. Quite the penalty for participating!

In other news, I've decided to start making use of the "Shared Items" feature in Google Reader. Feel free to subscribe to the feed at the following link, or you can revisit it by selecting the "My Google Feed" link on the right.

The Annual Holiday Letter

It's that time of year again; time for holiday cards and letters. Actually, for me, it's a little early, actually, but we try to please. For those who may not receive a copy of the holiday letter (color printing is expensive), or who had their cards mailed before the letters were ready, here's a 2.8M PDF of it. I tried a few new things with text boxes and graphics, borrowed from a couple templates.

Enjoy! and Happy Holidays!

Cookie Season is Upon Us!

Ya know, I can't decide if it's sad or really cool that the one time of year we actually fill the grocery cart is when we buy Hanna's ingredients for baking Christmas cookies (this year we spent just about $100 on ingredients). It's become her annual tradition to go nuts the week leading up to Christmas, baking bazillions of cookies. For example, last year she baked 13 batches of 11 different cookies, with at least a dozen cookies in each batch (and sometimes 2 dozen).

Every year, cookie season is an adventure, representing a time of culinary expression and creativeness (for the wife). She always tries a couple new cookies, phases out less desired cookies, and of course continues the tried-n-true cookies. Some year I'll be adding to the mix by attempting to learn how to make Great Grandma Tomhave's honey cookies (maybe this year, since I might be on the bench next week). My Grandma Tomhave doesn't make many any more, so at most I get 1-2 while at my parents to try (they're quite intensive to make). I have the detailed directions, but simply haven't attempted yet. Better do so soon before I can't ask for clarification...

I'll be back to posting regularly again in another day or so. I've been head-down on a new project, which I should be wrapping up in the next day or two. I should also be finished soon with my current non-fiction reading (Bjorn Lomborg's Cool It) and will then post a review. It's been an easy, interesting read so far.

And that's all I know for now. :)

Growing up in an extremely conservative household, I was never really one to have a lot of friends. Sure, there were a couple friends from church who I got to hang out with, and of course youth group trips (when they didn't conflict with sports or music), but beyond that, really, not a lot of friends. The group of people I was perhaps most close to (outside of church) was the orchestra, and particularly the Apollo Strings (an "elite" chamber orchestra that played gigs for fees/donations, that we then used to take a trip after school was out).

And so it is, as of late, that I've come to learn the value of friendship and how nice and fun it can be to actually hang out with folks in social settings, relax, chat, watch a game, or travel, or just get drinks. It's a concept that feels totally foreign to me, while at the same time fits like a perfectly sized pair of socks. Moreover, it's reminded me that I do, in fact, actually like people (well, some people, anyway;). I like being able to just hang out and chit-chat with not much pressure. And, I like going places and running into people I know and like, kind of like the theme song from Cheers describes:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

Ya know, it's bad enough when we suspect our politicians of mass corruption. I mean, you look at Bush and Cheney and their ties to companies like Halliburton and the bazillions that Halliburton has made off the Iraq war and you think "gosh, seems awfully coincidental that." But it's an entirely more egregious matter when politicians start mailing it in and just flaunt their corruption. A few examples...

The poor, weak MPAA and RIAA are so challenged in enforcing their copyrights, and have such a burden in providing proof, that they've effectively lobbied Congress to create a copyright enforcement agency. So, even though the courts have ruled that it is the responsibility of the copyright holder to find the offender and demonstrate damages, Congress now apparently thinks they need to subsidize these actions. Wait, I'm sorry. I thought their oaths were to uphold the Constitution, not provide law enforcement wings dedicated specifically to private corporate interests? Hmmm...

Fit By Christmas: An Attempt

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Alrighty, folks, the holidays are coming up, and you know we're all dreading getting fat from the Christmas goose! :) In fact, if you're anything like me, you're probably already feeling a little heavy from Thanksgiving goodness, and you're really not looking forward to entering the new year feeling like you've just been fattened for market. My answer? Time to step up an aggressive workout routine! I've developed the following routine based on a combination of kettlebells and Pavel's "Power to the People" routine. Here's what I'm going to attempt through Friday, December 21st:

Day Workout Plan
Sunday: off (football!)
Monday: gym day - deadlift (2-3 sets of 5), side press (2-3 sets of 5), hard run
Tuesday: kettlebells (cardio day) - warmup, side & push press, 30-50 swings/side, 15-20 snatches/side, 3x15-20 pushups
Wednesday: gym day - deadlift, side press, light run
Thursday: kettlebells (core day) - Turkish getups (6 minutes), windmills, floor press (as possible), 3x10 pushups
Friday: gym day - deadlift, side press, moderate run
Saturday: kettlebells (maintenance day) - 20 swings/side, 10-15 snatches/side, presses to near burnout (not failure), 3x15 pushups (slow)

Performance Report to Date: I began this routine on Tuesday after cooking it up. Tuesday and Wednesday went fine, but today (Thursday) simply did not happen. I was rather sore from the deadlifts yesterday (it's been a while), and life got in the way. I will still do some kettlebell work here tonight, but it won't likely be the full kettlebell core workout. Tomorrow I plan to get back into the gym to run, assuming I can get out of the office a bit early.

Comrades - sign-up now for early-bird savings up to $1000 on Pavel's Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certification Program in St. Paul, MN. Date/time and discount information is below, or click here for more information. Register here to if you're already ready to go (if you decide to register for this workshop, please bookmark this page for later so that I can get the referral credit).

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Extreme Early-Bird Registration Discount:
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Ok, this is a grab bag post, I admit it... first off, Shawn has posted a great explanation of session fixation - a little discussed or known security vulnerability. Second, our government at work... it seems the House, in a pre-election frenzy (a little early for that, don't you think?), has rapidly passed a bill that I guarantee is so poorly thought through that it will caused lots of headaches if it ever makes its way into law.

Specifically, Congress now thinks that any provider of Internet access - including free wi-fi at your local coffee shop, now must report "obscene" images to NCMEC if they're detected or seen. Now, on the one hand, this is a stupid law, because you're already required by law to report any instances of suspected child pornography. But, on the other hand, this is potentially distressing as, if read in the wrong way, could result in free wi-fi access being yanked out of most coffee shops as they may determine the legal exposure is too great. Yet another case where Congress is micromanaging where they needn't interfere. There are potential privacy implications here, too, that are of course not likely being considered by the geniuses on the Hill.

Last, but not least, as mentioned earlier today, Republican presidential wannabe Mitt Romney today mimicked JFK in giving a speech on the role of his religious beliefs in his life as a public servant. Fortunately, he erred on the side of providing space for all religions, though at the same time he seemed to imply that we should all adhere to religious values, which seemed a little off. You can decide for yourself. You can read CNN's coverage here, and the Salon has posted follow-ups here and here.

If there's one thing the Sudan teacher/bear incident has demonstrated clearly, it's that religion has no place in government. Wars have been fought over this topic (see English and French history), and it was with a clear mind that the Founding Fathers built the US Constitution on a foundation that included separation of church and state, as well as religious tolerance.

So, it is today that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will give a speech about why his religious beliefs are important, yet not a threat to his ability to govern. Many have tried to compare this to the JFK speech in the 60s, but we will find that they are, in fact, significantly different. Whereas Kennedy clearly separated his religious beliefs from his civil service duties, Romney apparently wants us all to believe that he can combine the two without threatening the value systems of others.

Our Ethical Hacking unit is expanding their Application Security team, and thus needs some experience AppSec testers. I'll post full details when I get them, but what I do know is that the positions are all virtual, and travel may or may not be required (they seem flexible on this point). Send me a note with your resume/CV if you're interested in any such opportunities. :)

First off, hooray me! :) This is my 200th post since creating this blog in January. Hopefully somebody has found a useful piece of information or two.

Now to the point of the hour... as I've noted a few times before, the story of the British teacher in Sudan, whose kiddies named their teddy bear after He Who Must Not Be Named, is quite an insane story. Well, there's a couple pieces of news today. First, she's been pardoned. Apparently not everyone in power in Sudan is a mindless religious zealot. Second, and perhaps more interesting, is this bit on indicating that the whole flap was caused by a disgruntled former teacher who was trying to get the school closed down. Way to go religious zealots in completely missing the point of the complaint. Sheesh. Just underscores how incredibly insane this whole situation has been.

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