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