Sunday, August 18, 2013

May you live in interesting times

That is an ancient Chinese curse.

As I find myself once again relocating our house and home, I have to agree, for as much as I have many things about Vermont that I do not enjoy, I've discovered many things that I'll miss.

Chief among them having a life, a routine, and a comfortable rut that I enjoy.

I know things about here and they know me here.

I walk in the pizza shop and they know what I like and will sometimes cook me a whole, small, peperoni pizza instead of just fixing me the two slices I'm in for. Just because that is what life in a small town is like.

And Northfield, Vermont is a small town.

Actually, a village.

The Village of Northfield. With a Main street and a town square with the National Guard Armory on it.

And parades on national holidays.

And concerts and small town activities on the town square during such times, with the town square being completely closed off to traffic and folks being okay with that.

Your dog is welcome in the Village offices when you stop by to pay your utilities and they'll give your dog a treat when you stop by.

Not a perfect place, but nice.

Work was very nice, small place with lots of interesting things to do.

But times change, fortunes ebb, and I found myself looking for alternate employment.

And discovered that I'll miss this small town and the life we've had there with the folks in the town, my coworkers, and the students I've had the pleasure to know and mentor.

I taught a post-graduate course on computer penetration testing this spring. I enjoyed it, despite the work it took as I worked to ensure that I brought my "A game" to every session. All online, class and labs, I taught in front of a web cam for three hours each week then turned my students loose on their online labs for a week of virtual mayhem.

Attacking workstations. Attacking servers. Attacking networks.

Each week I'd demonstrate the techniques on a like target to show them ways that it could be done. Share insight into the though processes involved in penetrating the machines and networks despite an initial lack of information.

Scared the dickens out of them by showing them how easy it was to attack and take down a poor, innocent, Windows server quietly minding it's own business.

It was a very rewarding class, watching the students learn and master new skills, taking down machines and networks as they progressed through the course. Watching the light come on as they grasped the techniques and applied their knowledge and newly acquired skills. Coaching a student from dropping out to earning an A- by course's end.

And watching undergraduate kids I'd mentored through their four years here as they strode confidently across the stage to receive their diplomas and to head out into the world and make their way.

I'll miss the interaction with the students, but things change and now they are not the only ones moving on.

After a long search and interview process I have accepted and started a position with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory as a systems administrator.

Lots of smart folks and interesting projects for me to support and it will be a worthy challenge doing so.

And our 36th or 37th move.

Or so.

With all that goes with that, and we're having to do the move ourselves which adds to an already stressful time. But we'll manage, we have each other, come what may.

It's a bigger research facility than the one that I've been working for with much better funding. But I'll miss my previous coworkers.

Scott. Chris. Tracy. Katie. Andy and more.

Good folks one and all, who I knew not once upon a time. As it is with my current, new, coworkers.

Except for one that I've known for many years. A fellow SF commo man with whom it has been a pleasant opportunity to get reacquainted again.

The commute is a bit more than the 0.9 miles that I've become accustomed to. So, I go in early to run and lift and do things like that on base before work.

Boring and comfortable is vastly underrated.  

This is new. It is interesting. It is different.

And it is so much harder than everything that we have gotten used to.

Because, it is unknown.

And interesting.

Because boring is comfortable and familiar.

And interesting is not.

To live in interesting times is anything but comfortable and familiar.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Two wheeled thunder

So, last month I spent a weekend taking a motorcycle riding course. The Basic Riders Course that is designed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and offered over a weekend of Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.

I had taken a similar course back in '81 while on casual status after completing the Special Forces Qualification Course (5-81 for what that's worth). Three days of classroom instruction and riding skill development exercises resulting in minimal competency on a motorcycle and your motorcycle endorsement on your drivers license. This one was similar in form and function. Four guys, six women, two instructors, and a bunch of bikes. The course is run by the State of Vermont DMV and the bikes are provided and maintained by the state. It was an excellent course and the two instructors were very capable. They had madd skilz, great attitude, and great coaching abilities. I cannot say enough about the quality of the course as implemented in the persons of Pat and Mike of the Vermont DMV.  Their insights into my handling and ways to improve it were spot on and everyone passed the test and walked away with their motorcycle endorsements.

Which leads to my purchasing a motorcycle a couple of weeks ago.

A beautiful 2008 Harley Davidson Cross Bones Softail motorcycle, part of their Dark Custom series from several years ago.

As you can see from the photo, it has a windscreen. Said windscreen had a very serious crack in it that went unnoticed by myself and the folks at the dealership.

"Aha" you're probably thinking, "I'll bet they missed it". My bride noticed it right off the bat when I got it home to show her. So, I went back the next day to inquire as to the best way to repair it, figuring that it was an "as is" thing with which I could live.

I rolled up, parked it and when my sales guy walked up, I inquired as to how I should repair it. Super glue and clamps? Something else perchance?

He examined it and appeared to be dumbfounded. "Wait a minute, let me get my parts guy."

Cool, a real expert will impart the wisdom of the ages on how to do this. I'm getting experience already!

Out comes the part guy, examines it, they consult, he goes back inside. He reappears momentarily with a measuring jig and measures the windscreen.

They look at me with solemnity and inform me that it needs replacement.

Uh-oh I figure, it must really need it, I guess I'm going to have to buy a new one after all.

Nope. They're replacing it.

Kostenlos. AKA, free. Gratis.

They feel bad that my first Harley experience has been marred by nobody noticing something so obvious and they don't want my first experience to be bad, so they're replacing it for free, they'll contact me when it's in.

Wilkins Harley Davidson in Barre, Vermont. I had heard good things about the folks there on a personal level, and good things about the dealership on a business level. All of which appeared to have been justified. I wanted to buy from them  before I left for just that reason, a reputable and trustworthy dealership for an expensive purchase like that is a rare find and I wanted to exercise that while I had one I could trust.

It's too bad I won't be able to keep coming back to them after this, but they gave me a name for a place that they would use where I'll be from now on.

I recommend them if you're in North Central Vermont.

The bike is trick. It's been modded for looks and performance and handles well. Plenty of power to move a big guy like me around and a commanding HD voice, which I'm getting used to.

A man and his bike.
It is a big bike but a friend observed, having not met me but knowing how big a HD like this is, that descriptions of my size were apparently not to scale. Having seen me now in this picture with the bike for reference, she observed that the bike appears a lot smaller than it really is. Knowing from my perspective that it is a big bike and reviewing these photos, I have to concur.
Making a big bike look smaller than it is.

Improved instrument cluster and flush gas caps.
It's a nice bike and I'm somewhat smitten by it. Straight pipes as I was informed, not having had previous experience with such things. So, it's a bit louder than your stock Harley. While down here visiting my in-laws I kept wondering why all the Harley's driving by on the street were so quiet.

Ah, it's not them. C'est moi.

Riding it is becoming more natural, though I'm not there yet. I'm beginning to get the hang of it and moving it and myself around in response to the road. In Vermont, if you're not on the Interstate, then pretty much every ride is a good ride for a bike. Even the ride to the Interstate is a good ride for a bike, let alone taking alternate routes to the places that I need to go to.

Of course, this requires a helmet, leathers - upper and lower, and rain gear. As my bride noticed, "it's like a boat - you have to keep pouring money into it." Sad but true, though they are a one time investment (more or less), they are not free.

Next weekend is the time to move it to the new location, the subject of another post.

I'm looking forward to it and I'll ensure that I document it as best I can.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Spring in North Central Vermont has come and gone, or is finally on the way out. It's 38 degrees out at the moment and there's a frost warning out for this evening.

At least it stopped raining. For the moment.

This winter was a real winter and the Rampaging Snow Beast saw a lot of use this winter. Not like last winter where the brand new snow blower sat in the garage, trotted out but a handful of times.

So ist das Leben.

Spring, when it starts is a tough call up here. But, there is a definite sign that Spring has arrived.

Sugaring Season.

When the collection of maple sap begins, it's Spring.

Nowadays, you see the pros linking the taps on the trees with plastic tubing which snakes through the woods about waist high. The tubing eventually winds its way to stainless steel collection tanks.

Which now have chains and locks on them to preserve their contents until the lawful owners show up.

It's a problem up here.

For those of us not in the business, the sign that spring is here looks like this:

My neighbor on the corner tapping the maple trees in his front yard.

This marks the official arrival of Spring. It lasts for several weeks if we're lucky for there is a lot of revenue derived thereof. While it's not exactly liquid gold, it's not cheap.

And the tourists expect it. And tourism is a big deal up here. Really big.

Like, folks will stop coming up here if they don't find maple syrup.

Well, not exactly, but when you come to Vermont as a touristy-type, you expect some things.

Mountains, Green, one each.

Bed and Breakfasts.

And Maple Syrup. You can't run a tourist stop without it.

Genuine Vermont Maple Syrup.

If you've not had it, it's good stuff. It's worth the cost and really is different than the colored, thickened, sugar water pushed off on the undiscerning.

With any luck, sugaring season runs for at least three or four weeks. The days are above freezing and the nights just below freezing. This is the perfect weather for the sap to flow. Once they've collected it, they boil it down until it thickens to the right consistency and taste.

40 gallons of maple sap produces 1 gallon of maple syrup. The sugaring shacks are where they boil it down and the folks that do this put in long, hard, lonely hours. The boiling continues 24x7 while the season lasts so the sugaring folks toil diligently while they can.

Those that tap the trees in their yards and produce their own syrup are called back yard sugarers. For those of us not from up here, the whole concept of tapping the trees in your yard and making your own maple syrup is cool. Like walking out in your back yard and picking a banana off a bush in your backyard (been there, done that, and it was really cool).

As for the official end of Spring, that does not exactly coincide with the end of sugaring season.

Not even close.

There are, however, signs every bit as definitive as the proverbial burning bush. The appearance of the old cars.

The coupes. The Mustangs. The Model Ts.

The '79 Celica.

When my neighbor takes his '79 Celica out of storage and parks it in his driveway, I know that I can take the snow tires off of my car, the snow is over.

And everything blooms. Everything. Riotously.

This is what the end of spring looks like.

I like Winter. I enjoy the cold, the bite of the cold morning air, the squeak of fresh, dry snow underfoot as you walk upon it.

But I like seasons and despite my love of Winter, I found that this year I really was ready.

For Spring.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The friends in the room

I've been reminded of some past comrades folks I know. They've been haunting my life over the past few weeks. Like they were around me, behind me and making me think of them.

Unbidden they've managed to insert themselves back into my life.

Not for any specific reason that I know of.

Except for one. My dad.

It was two years ago this last month that he passed.

At the time it was not exactly a surprise, but it was a surprise in the end. Even when you see it coming, it always is a surprise when it finally occurs.

I started calling my dad the Energizer Bunny because every time he went in to the hospital, very sick, he always came out.


He always beat the odds and the prognostications of the doctors.

Until he didn't.

Finally, even the Energizer Bunny ran down.

I still miss him. I still talk to him. I still relive memories of past times together, so that he's not really gone. When I remember these times, I laugh again, I feel joy again, I relive them with him again like he was still here.

And for those moments, he still is. He and I are still living, laughing, and loving.

So, the anniversary of his passing causes me to miss him, logical.

Fred, not so much. Fred Bozek passed this past summer, something that we saw coming. Fred is another old time SF guy. One of the senior guys when I joined 10th SF, who'd been around awhile. He'd seen things. He'd done things. Done combat things. The sorts of things that a young, impressionable troop with brand new shiny jump wings and a desire to be one of the action figures found fascinating.

And so not one of those. So such a new, wet behind the ears kid wannabe. But Fred was cool, gracious, and nice guy. He was equally at home with his buds that he had served in Viet Nam with and with us new "VolAr" kids.

Volunteer Army (VolAr). It started in 1977 when the military started only accepting folks that volunteered to enlist into the military. It was to be the end of a decent, effective, US military fighting machine. Well, that was the common take and prevailing wisdom of those in the know at the time. Actually, not so much.

But I digress.

Fred popped into my head for some reason. Turns out that he had been living around Palatka, FL, a town that I had driven through many times and watched Fourth of July fireworks several times with my aunt and uncle that lived near there. Had I known that Fred was there, I very much would have linked up with him, but twas not to be.

I'm saddened for the missed opportunities. I knew him for over 10 years while in 10th, during which time I became SF qualified, got experienced, and became a peer.

His treatment of me never varied. Not a bit.

I last saw him while he was working at Range Control at Fort Devens, having left group to get away from a spate of chicken shit mis-focused leaders that we went through for a time. Folks concerned with pole vaulting over mouse turds vice some operational issues that deserved attention.

That's the worms eye view.

I saw him during a HALO night jump when I landed off the DZ in a junk yard. The guy that owned the junk yard was used to this and graciously ran me over to range control in his pickup truck. Where I ran into Fred, who had more jumps then than I did by the time I retired years later. Gracious, of course, as ever that night. 

And David. My best friend for most of my life. He passed a couple of months after my Dad. Stood up at his desk and fell over dead of a heart attack.

We had known each other from the crucible of elementary school where we were the odd kids out, receiving the ire of the teacher and the scorn of our classmates.

David was distinct. He was avant-garde before folks were.

In the '50s he would have been a beatnik.

In third grade he was just weird. And I was his sidekick. Or visa versa.

He grew into himself as time went on, but he was always avant-garde.

I first heard Kansas, "Carry on" over at his house sitting around in his room. 10cc, Mott the Hoople, Queen, and many others I first heard because of David.

He had tickets to see Queen, ninth row center at the Santa Monica Civic Center in 1975. When he bought the ticket, no one on this side of the Pond had heard of them. Two weeks before the concert "Bohemian Rhapsody" hit big and the tickets were impossible to come by. I cannot remember how many folks tried to buy my ticket from me on my way in to the concert.

Yeah, my ticket. David got grounded (a common occurrence) and sold his ticket to me, after convincing me to go. I'm really glad he did. It was a great concert. Freddy Mercury and Queen were in great form, that night they presented an inspiring performance that made me a fan for life.

I cannot hear Dust in the Wind or Carry On without thinking of David. Never. We were friends through elementary school, attending school together first at one school, then another. His dad became more successful and they moved to a more toney neighborhood about Jr High School time.

Yet we remained close friends. I would ride my bike the three and a half miles to his place, or he to mine. Though it was mostly me to his, David spent a lot of time grounded even before he could drive. Once I could drive I would drive to his place to visit and/or pick him up and we'd drive around or visit other friends. Even when grounded, his folks allowed me to visit. I was a good influence? I guess so.

He went to Israel for awhile in the 70s while I went in the Army. He came back after a few years, I made a career in the Army and never really came back. But we reconnected via email and chatted online and on Facebook. He popped up while I was on a business trip to Germany and we had a good chat. That was the last time we "spoke" before his death.

Frequently, while sitting "alone" I'll start laughing as I remember something from my time with one of them. And I'll toss out a comment to which ever one of them I'm reliving a moment with. Just like before, with my friends in the room like nothing had ever changed. They'll be with me for the rest of my life, and I with them.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Time and tide wait for no man

A year.

A year ago today he was still posting. We were still reading, discussing, chatting.

Life was normal, my morning online routine started with him. I checked back again over the course of the day, as usual.

It was during the thread of "Streamer", during our chattering, that the first harbingers of something amiss came to light. Niggling chunks of news that were unconfirmed while we mused over their meaning.

Calculated the odds. Figured how many of this and that were there, who was flying, what it could mean. As the bits trickled in it became increasingly clear that it looked bad.

Increasingly the picture emerged that it would involve him.


Our host. Who had walked away from something that he loved, that was a part of him. The Dream lived and put aside as Life moved on.

He got his chance again though. After doing the contractor thing, the cubeville thing, the Powerpoint Ranger thing, opportunity knocked.

"They" wanted him to fly fast movers again. That life among the skies was asking him back, to return to the pulse pounding life of flying for a living. Flying in high performance aircraft again, paid to roam the skies and tangle with others similarly attired. To live the Dream again.

How many of us get to go back and do it again, to live the dream and the life that others only dream of, that we walked away from, glad to have had the chance at all.

And not only get to do it again, called back.

He had to work to get back, sweating, panting, exercising for high G turns. Going back to school to learn a new air frame, older, slower than he used to fly, but still high performance fun.

There were niggling things that kept popping up. Tower folks who should have known how to guide in this craft but kept missing marks. Little things that a more manual, older bird demands that are nothing like what he spent a lifetime of flying doing.

Streamer was just that, a discussion of something gone wrong with the bird. Nothing bad, but it was one of series of things that seemed to haunt the bird. It turned out that it was a practice run for what finally happened to him. He ran out of options, air speed, gas, pretty much everything.

And in the end, he died as he lived. Doing what he enjoyed.

And we grieved and we moved on.

Unfortunately, life continues. His family still lives and deals with life suddenly without him. We do the same. We've had surgeries, graduated, changed jobs, and otherwise had to keep dealing with the current of life coming at us.


We remember.

We bear witness.

We blog, we live, we chatter, we remember. For he was of us, and we of him.

And now a year later, most of us that started blogging to keep his memory alive are still doing so. Still bearing witness. Still adding our voices to the blogosphere.

That I think is the greatest tribute. Inspired by a man most of us never met, we muddle through life, adding our viewpoint in an inviting manner. Hosting sites of discussion and tolerance for opinions that diverge from our own.

I still have issues with the airfields that handle mishandle these birds on a regular basis.

I miss him and hold him in my heart. Though he is gone too soon we deal with the aftermath, for the tides and time wait for no man.

No matter how much we miss him.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Partly cloudy to Cloudy

I'm a geek, it had to come to this.

A geek post.

One of my coworkers has drunk the "Cloud" Kool Aid. Everything has to "be in the Cloud". Otherwise you're a "box hugger".

So, what the hell am I talking about?

Have you wondered what the "Cloud" is?

"The Cloud" is any service that you can reach from the Internet.  Traditionally, if you wanted to use something, you had to go to a computer. Frequently, you had to go to your computer. For example, if you wanted to access the latest sales figures, you had to log in to your computer at work and open the file stored on your hard drive with the spreadsheet program installed on your computer. If you copied that file onto a floppy (or more recently, a USB drive) and took it home, you could not access that data unless you had a compatible version of the spreadsheet program installed on your computer at home. Meaning, you had to have a copy of your own installed on the computer you have at home. If you were not near a computer with that program installed on it then you were unable to access the data in that file.

Things got better, you had file servers at work so that you could log in to any company computer with your company credentials and access any data that you are allowed to access. So, files that you have stored on your shared hard drive space are accessible by you from anywhere on the company network - L.A. or New York.

Even Berlin.

If you could not get access to your company network, then that data was unavailable to you.

The same with any music that you might have digitized. If you didn't have your mp3 player with you and you weren't at home, then you did without your music (we'll skip over CD players in your car or PC).

With the Intenet, we began to be able to log in to the work network via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that acted like a private extension of the work network. Only to your home. Or at your local purveyor of high-end coffee.

You get the idea.

But, things tended to still be locked up or behind walls. If you could not run your VPN software, then you could not access the data that you needed to access. So, if you ran a Mac that did not have VPN software of the type that your company uses, you were unable to access your company network. Likewise if your smart phone didn't have a compliant VPN application, the corporate network and data was unavailable to you.

Similarly, all of the music on your hard drive was unavailable to you. So if your mp3 player wasn't large enough to hold all of your music, you had to choose in advance what music you thought you might want to listen to. Or your movies.

The next evolution was for folks to provide an answer to that. They created software-as-a-service (SaaS). It started with things like contact management software (actually, it started as email like Hotmail), the first of which was which hosted enterprise-level customer relationship management (CRM) software for sales people to manage their customers.

This software only required that the customer be able to access the Internet.

And have a browser.

With internet access and a browser, you could access the site, log in with your credentials and immediately access your contact management data. Now your sales force had access to customer data while they were out on the road. Whether that road led to Muncie or Munich.

Google Docs added a basic software suite of word processor, spreadsheet, and shared calendars (okay, and email) for a company's people to use.

From anywhere.

With the ability to delegate actions (important for management) and share data documents.

Now, a company's workers can access and share company data with anyone in the company regardless of where they are.

Now, in g33k (aka, geek) circles, the interior networks are shown as diagrams of nets, subnets, routers, and so on. And the external world, the Internet, is shown as a nebulous thing, a cloud. Literally, a figure of a cloud is used to indicate the Internet. And this representation has been used for many years now. Well before "The Cloud" became the defacto phrase for anything that is an Internet-based service.

So, any service that only requires an Internet connection to use is referred to as being "in the Cloud".

Still here? Still awake? Good, we're almost finished.

So the issue came up about a service that we were planning on offering and that it should be hosted "in the cloud". Because, if we did, we wouldn't have to worry about servers, networking, licenses, or anything. It would "just scale" through the magic of "Cloud".

It would just know.

Like magic.

And we could stop hugging servers and insisting on having hardware. In fact, anybody teaching folks on servers and how to use them or how to build infrastructure was wasting time and effort in teaching folks how to build buggy whips.

Except, those "clouds" don't form from pixi dust or unicorn sweat. People have to open boxes, remove servers and rack them, stack them, and configure them.

Now, you can use kickstart files to automate a lot of that, but you have to know how this "magic" works in order to write kickstart files (files which automatically install and configure the servers as required).

Somebody has to teach how this stuff works. Not as a certificate course, but using theory to explain how they work, how to design them, what the various designs are and their strengths and weaknesses are, and why certain configurations are preferred over others for various requirements. In short, a degreed program that turns out folks who will design the coming generations of technological infrastructure(s) that will support whatever the future holds for us. In short, while one day the concept of having your own server farms may no longer be necessary for many of us, someone somewhere will be creating the infrastructure to handle it for you. We should keep teaching that.

But we're not there yet. Probably not going to be there within ten years either.

Flickr and tumblr are examples of Cloud services. Hotmail and Gmail are as well. iCloud and MeGo as well as Dropbox are yet more examples of Cloud service offerings. Most of these are free, and sometimes that is their real value to you. See here for an example of the service providing apropos to its cost to the end user.

This stuff is all fine and good. If you're in civilization.

You know, limitless wifi, true high speed Internet connections.

Not like many regions of New England. Or the Midwest. Or most of the U.S. at this point in time.

Without this ubiquitous high speed Internet access. Always and everywhere, you'll need to have local assets and copies of things that you want if you want to access them whenever you want.

For the foreseeable future, we'll have to hug something technical.

Me? I'm a coffee guy.

I'm not a Kool Aid guy. Especially when someone is handing it out to the masses.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My kilt story

Over at Bou's she had a post about her Da and a night out with a Scottish gathering for all things Scottish. It reminded me of an incident with some lads under similar circumstances. So I liberally quote my response here with some embellishments:

I've the fuzzy man-legs for a kilt, but no excuse for it.

A German and Irish heritage (with a fair amount of British as well, though much further back) is not a real legacy for kilts.

We were having a celebration upon a day, as it were. It was a SpecOps thing and we had some of Scotlands finest in attendance, Paras I believe. Perhaps Royal Marines or Commandos. Regardless, they were arrayed in their finest and had brought their pipes (huzzah!) as they were true Scots and more the welcome for their pipes. Strapping lads one and all.

My wife, wonderful lass that she is, had not much real experience with Scots, though she had heard things.

So, while mingling and imbibing (early on though, she'd no need of liquid courage for this) inquired if what she had heard of Scots and kilts was true. She felt emboldened I imagine since she could see that we all knew one another and were comfortable around each other.

So, I invited one of the lads over for her to speak with.

I told her, "Go ahead and ask him if you'd wish dear".

Ah, we were still young enough that she was want to avoid a bad reaction on my part lest these things be true, my blessing to her inquiry allowing as to my being comfortable with this line of inquiry.

So, she asked if it were true about what a Scot wore beneath his kilt.

He glanced at me and cocked an eyebrow, awaiting my reaction.

Understanding that although I was never the owner of the chiseled physique of Rambo, I was still 6'4", 185, in Special Forces and not as an accountant.

I assured him it was fine with me if he was willing to accede to the lady's inquiry.

So he showed her that a true Scot only wears what the good Lord gave him beneath his kilt.

Turns out that he was a natural red head.

Turns out that my wife was able to do a very passable imitation of red her self.

And the night went on in fine fashion, all of us having a thoroughly good time.

Though my dear bride still remembers and refers to that incident when the subject of kilts comes up.

And what is not beneath them.

And that is my kilt story. :)

Penguin Plunge

The Penguin Plunge, more commonly called a "Polar Bear Club" event in other locales, will take place this Saturday in Burlington, VT. The Penguin Plunge in this case is an event of Special Olympics Vermont held as a fund raiser for the Special Olympians of the state.

It's held every year about the first weekend of February at the City of Burlington boat ramp in conjunction with the city's Winter Carnival. A large contingent of cadets and students from Norwich University volunteer to help man the event in various capacities, along with folks from many other organizations. I attend with the NU student contingent. This year will be my third time volunteering, my second time plunging.

Those of us that help to run the event form the last plunge group. We form up as a contingent, march down to the boat ramp, do some pushups, and then rush the water to close out the event.

Follow the link, come on down if you're in the area. It's a festival in the cold and usually a good time.

I'll be the one in the black Army trunks and gray NU t-shirt trying hard to look like I'm not cold.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Things that go bump in the 'Net

Oh noes! We're under attack!

Unseen, all-out cyber war on the U.S. has begun

 I read a lot of folks, some of whom I agree with, some not, and some that I agree with sometimes and sometimes not. In this case, not so much with these folks, but with a guy named Bruce Schneier who likens articles like this to hype and hysteria (not a literal quote). While he frequently feels that discussions about a "cyber Pearl Harbor" are overdone, that the threat isn't that severe, I don't share his complete disregard. I don't disagree that there is a lot of alarm being raised by folks who have something to gain from the fear, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a big threat.

 This particular article has a lot of "may" and "could be" sprinkled throughout. It does address issues that are true, there have been some particularly severe infestations of networks that went on for years before being detected. The attacks are getting much more sophisticated. The article mentions the recent advice to turn off or disable Java in your systems. 

 For those within the cyber security industry, "Duh". We've been using separate browsers for years now, one with Java installed for those sites that we regularly have to use that require Java to be enabled. 

Like Gmail. 

And our other browser, the one we use for normal surfing the web, without Java in it. And neither browser is Internet Explorer

Firefox. Chrome. Opera. 

 This particular article slings phrases like "cyber violence" and "cyber 9/11" looking to spook folks. Phrases just loaded with strong imagery designed to instill fear in the readers. Yeah, there is stuff happening, there has been for years. Yeah, it's getting sneakier. Yeah, lots of folks do the equivalent of leaving their front door open, their back door open, leave their wallets on the front steps, and so on.

But . . .

This is the sort of thing that gripes me: 

 Banks coming under cyberattack 

This article is being used as an example of how pervasive this cyber threat is. They talk about how the U.S. financial system is being targeted, then using an example of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to make their point. A DDoS is where a lot of computers are directed to ask the bank's web server to send them a copy of the bank's home page. 

Think supply and demand. When too many folks mob something looking for more of it than is on hand, some do without. 

In this case, normal customers that are trying to do their banking business with the bank either may not be able to reach it or experience slow response from the bank site. In cases like this, this is considered a damaging attack because customers are being inconvenienced. More so if they actually cannot get through. 

However, a physical version would be a large crowd of people swarming the ATM that you usually use. You are denied access to it while they're swarming it, but the bank is not going down. 

In the cyber case, the bank may not be able to put up another ATM, but it hasn't failed nor been compromised. With experience, the bank will learn how to deal with this type of attack to minimize the impact to their operations and the customer experience. 

But, cyber violence it isn't. 

Neither is it a cyber 9/11.  

There is a threat. We do need to take it seriously.

But let us not equate what is really only a cyber flash mob and its effects with results like this.


Sunday, January 06, 2013

Winters I have known

This time some more photos, but mostly of more recent vintage - like last weekend.

And before.

Snow. We gots it.

Knowing that unlike the tropics, where my in-laws live, we live in The North which is known for snow. As differentiated from Massachusetts (aka, The Tropics) where they only received about 6 inches of snow I knew that we were supposed to receive 12+ inches. So, during the multiple hour drive that was the journey home, I was mulling over my plan of attack for when we arrived. Fully anticipating having to post-hole to the front steps, start a fire, change into snow clothes, and mow the snow with the snow mower (aka, The Rampaging Snow Beast). We arrived home after our Christmas sojourn to find this awaiting us:

Be it ever so snowbound . . .

As you can see, it's a fair amount of snow.

As you can also see, I have nice good neighbors.

We parked across the street in that neighbors driveway and strolled up to our steps to begin the process.

The cats were thrilled to see us and jump into our warm, cozy laps.

For which they had good reason.

Once inside and aware of the state of things within the homestead, my bride's glance was almost as frosty as the reading on the thermo meter. For instead of the anticipated 60-something that I had thought the house would remain at, we found it a less than agreeable 43 degrees.

While not an unreasonable exterior temperature, most women I know tend to be chilly in a reasonable indoor environment.

By most standards, 43 does not qualify for that description.

We have radiant heat in two floors and a wood stove. Seven feet tall and magnificent to behold, it is a wondrous thing when in full burn. But, it is manually operated. Sooooo, when we're gone, no fire. No heat. Just the ground floor and the partial second floor doing their radiant heat thing.

In late December in northern Vermont.

Said wondrous stove can heat you right out of this domicile. Given time.


No forced air, no oil-fired furnace with its immediate gratification of hotly desired heat (pun intended).

So, load up the stove with wood, stuffing little pieces in every nook and cranny in the burning area and break out the god of fire. Then change into my snow mowing clothes - warm pants, Sorel boots, thick socks, heavy coat, warm gloves, warm stocking hat, and head outside to where the temperature was cold, but the atmosphere a bit warmer than inside.

My bride awaited the arrival of a livable temperature while having to wear her coat inside her home.

Me? I sought out the warmth and solace of the winter afternoon in the interim. 

This is what awaited me:

16 inches of winter goodness.
There are places where it was worse, but there are places where it was less. I had just left one.

Fortunately I have a snow blowing beast of burden to ease my physical labors in situations like this.


Those of you that have lived in such a clime know that regardless the ability of the snowblower, there are many places where it cannot remove snow. Removing snow from these places thusly requires substantial personal physical effort despite the ownership of such wonderful mechanical contrivances.

But I digress.

Still, it can move an awful lot of the snow that it can reach. That's the charm of these beasties.

So, to it I went, stopping to document some of the level of effort required:

Actually, it was worse than it appears.
So, some of it was higher than the snowbeast, which requires additional effort and time to tame. I worked out some techniques, shoveling the snow down to fit the intake of the snowbeast being the best of these. Throw the excess snow on the ground and get it with an additional pass.

My neighbor is a smart, thoughtful guy, senior to me with the knowledge that comes with that status. He frequently avails me of said knowledge, especially when I ask.

So I asked him the best way to deal with the snow when it is piled up higher than the snowbeast.

"Don't let it get that high, hit it with the snowblower before then."

Erudite in its simplicity. Not much help when you're not around however.

I was reminded of previous times that I've removed snow.

I still remember this.

At one point in my career I found my self stationed with a Special Forces unit located at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, an hour south of München (Munich). Being stationed at the base of the Bavarian Alps, we naturally availed ourselves of said natural resource for our winter activities.

Especially those of the downhill ski training type.

So, in January of '81 we found ourselves conducting our annual ski training on the Brauneck, a local mountain with which we were familiar. With slopes suitable for training thereon as well as locales suitable for the cultural training aspect of it. For we are trained in the local languages, customs, and cultures. Said cultures, customs, and languages we are expected to maintain proficiency in.

Perforce fluency even.

Such cultural activities including, but not limited to, availing ourselves of the locals highly prized and proudly served malt and barley beverages. Said beverages to be consumed under the cloaking activity frequently referred to as "lunch". There are many places wherefore to stop by and undertake said cultural activities, and we being very familiar with the mountain had developed preferences.

So, to one such preferential locale on the mountain did we retire to.

We stopped by a place whose owners we were familiar with, and they with us. While greeting her and trying to sort out our orders, it came up that with the extraordinary snow fall of this season she had a problem. While she had managed to dig out the front of the establishment, she needed to dig out the back. She hadn't gotten to it yet. So, we offered to dig it out for her. We knew them well and she was no longer as spry as she had been as a bride.

Under all that snow was a supply shed that she accessed on a near daily basis. We dug a way from the kitchen door of the hütte to the shed for her as her husband had died in the fall and they had not yet adjusted to his absence.

Eventually the kids took over running the hütte but we gave her a hand in the interim.

Americans still receive a warm welcome there to this day, for this represents but one of many incidents of assistance with these folks.

But especially tall ones, for the vertically challenged among our group were unable to heave the snow high enough to gain "escape velocity" as it were. At 6'4" I was challenged to do so as we got towards the bottom.

So, the snow at home this week is back in perspective for me.

Oh yeah, frigid home and hearth. After a couple of hours of clearing snow from the driveway and truck it was time to park the car in the driveway.

And start the unloading.

Then burn another load in the stove.

We managed to raise the indoor temp to 60 by the time we retired for the evening. It was 67 by the next morning when we arose from our slumbers and the house was much warmer in more ways than one.

marcus erroneous