I was reading Dark Arts for the Good Guys, as linked to by Ms. Tamara K..

Pretty good advice. Thought I’d toss in my own 2 cents on world travel.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, stick to tourist areas. Not “edgy” tourist areas you can brag about. Normal, boring, pretty tourist areas. Don’t go visiting areas outside said tourist areas. Most second or third world countries have tourism police and have a very vested interest in protecting foreign tourist trade from petty criminals. Not you personally. The tourist trade. Most likely, prices will be more than double in tourist areas and you won’t get an authentic experience. So what? If you’re on vacation, you’re burning cash anyways. Authentic experiences suck. Go with the Disney version. Less poverty, less bad food and food poisoning, less lack of hygiene, and the drinks taste better.

Hire a guide. Preferably a reputable guide connected to whomever booked your trip. Said guide will fleece you quite nicely. You’ll go to places where the guide gets a kickback or has a “friend” running the place. So what? If you hired the guide from someone reputable, they don’t care about the guide personally, they just want reliable service. Honest service is not required, so long as it’s not too bad for business. If you pick carefully, having a guide will make your trip significantly more enjoyable. When I was in Bulgaria, I hired an assistant history professor from a local university to give myself and my associates a tour of various historic places. Worth very penny, as I happen to like old castles and whatnot.

While I was in Sofia, I hired a guide/transport/fixer to take me to clubs, mafia casinos, black markets, etc. Not smart if you’re by yourself. Acceptable if you are with three other soldiers and you’re not all complete muppets. Just make sure one of you remains sober at all times and doesn’t drink or eat anything with the rest. Yes, the movie clique of doped drinks does happen. Or you could be ordering bad food or drink, requiring one person to not be projectile vomiting to make arrangements for a medevac. I made up for the costs of my guide by having someone who could haggle in the local lingo when I bought the mandatory useless crap to send back to friends and family in the States.

If your guide is giving you the creeps or bad vibes, ditch them immediately and get another. Your hotel should be able to swing you one in a pitch. Don’t ignore your instincts. On the other hand, be nice to your guide and don’t treat them like a serf. Gifts aren’t a bad idea, but use good judgment.

Don’t bring anything that cannot be replaced overseas. Your wedding ring? Leave it and swap it out for a cheap fake. Same for your watch, wallet, favorite briefcase, everything. Take everything you need out of your regular wallet and transfer it to another thinner wallet. Should just be ID, cash, two credit cards max (unless required for some specific purpose), limited number of checks (NOT the whole friggin book), etc. If your wallet gets stolen or misplaced, best to minimize the damage. Have cash. Keep some in reserve, but not an excessive amount. Don’t wear any jewelry made of gold, silver or precious stones. Not even fakes. Empty your luggage before packing. I mean, completely empty and quadruple check it to make sure it’s really empty. Put everything in your luggage in plastic baggies, smallest ones you can effectively manage. Try not to be clever and hide anything in your packed socks while travelling. After you land? Sure. Going through airport security? Not so smart. Write down all of the important information and phone numbers onto a cheatsheet. Photocopy it. Put one in your wallet, one in each piece of luggage, and put another spare in your carry-on. Include flight numbers, hotel, emergency contacts, embassy info, phone numbers for everything important, health information including blood type and allergies, insurance info, etc.

Carry some trade goods. Cigarettes are the best. Marlboros or Camels are prefered. Don’t go with anything fancy either. Batteries, semicheap watches, LED lights, etc are all good. Don’t carry too many on your person at any one time. Leave the majority of it in your luggage. Two or three packs of smokes on your person will likely get you by. Don’t use booze as a trade good. Don’t even think about touching drugs. It’s either really cheap crap or laced with something you don’t want.

If you are travelling on business, refuse to go unless the company coughs up for travel insurance, kidnap/ransom/extortion insurance and the services of a security/medical company. I have comprehensive membership through International SOS. Corporate membership is dirt cheap (relatively speaking), and can get the company a nice break on their insurance premiums. If you’re going to a country that has even the remotest possibility of going south, do not go without all of the above. Your company may already have it in place. If you’re going on vacation, strongly consider shelling out for it. If you’re going domestic, Western Europe or Australia, it’s not really needed. Anywhere else? You really should spring for it. It’s dirt cheap compared to your life.

Lastly, but not least, do some research on your destination. Learn as much of the local lingo as you can, even if it’s just a handful of memorized phrases. Look up the country on the State Department’s website, google around, etc. While it may be considered overkill, some companies do provide more detailed information. International SOS includes this in their membership, but companies like StratFor or Jane’s Consulting also have very useful information.

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A tour in a single post

Sunday, November 16, 2003

One of those days.

I slept in today, was kinda nice.   Haven’t had a day off in about three weeks.  Normally sunday is the day of sleeping in for me, but for the last few weeks I’ve been involved in weaponry training on my days off.   Teaching other nationalities how to operate US weapons and them training me.

I’ve trained with maybe a dozen countries by now.   Most assault rifles tend to be of similiar design, so they’re not too complex to learn.   Heavy machine guns are a wee bit more complex.  Specifically, every single one has a different barrel replacement procedure.   In other words, when you shoot a lot of rounds very quickly, you have to change out the barrels before they start to melt.

Thus far my favorite weapon is the Finnish version (Sako) of the AK-47.

Time for chow.

unday, November 16, 2003


My ER1 robotics unit should be getting here sometime soon.

Working on some modifications.  Propulsion, power and onboard electronics.

Propulsion is gonna be expensive.   The default wheels are rather weak.  Solid plastic with no special traction.   So, it’s going to be a switch to either treads or high traction tires.   Treads, I would go with a custom joby from a conveyor belt manufacturer I know of.   High traction tires are around, but they’re barely a step up.

Power is the battery unit.   There’s a bunch of different batteries around.  Lead acid being the cheapest and heavy, polymer lithium ion being the most expensive and lightest.   Probably go with a standard lithium ion or NiCad as well as a docking station for charging.   Have to build a circuit that will monitor voltage levels, when the voltage drops too low the circuit will order the robot back to the docking station.

Other addons will be of course, weapon modules.   Rockets are rather easy to work with.   Simply run a line from the serial port over to a simple circuit on the weapon module.   Probably make a few rocket pods for ease of reloading.   Automating the rocket pod switching is possible, but that’ll be at some point in the future.

Other considerations are AirSoft automatic BB weapons or paintball rounds.  These of course are non-lethal weapons.  Unless someone screws with the velocity or ammo of the weapons.  Both systems have version with electric firing mechanisms, which is relatively easy to set up.  Simply send a signal to the port.   Might make a safety circuit that the robot has to disarm before it fires, so it won’t accidently go full auto.

Probably add some sonic sensors.  They work better than IR or visual for two reasons.   Good range, and they operate in any environment.   IR sucks on tracking black objects, because black sucks up all light (including the IR band).   It’s also short range.   Visual can also be deceived with too much or not enough visiable light.   Sonic works on any solid object, regardless of lighting conditions.   There are some good electronics on the market for working with multiple sensors.

Monday, November 17, 2003


Weather here sucks.   Cold and damp.   Around here, late fall and early winter is the rainy season.  Had to get up at 0500 for a damn meeting.  Watched a black market copy of Matrix Revolutions, which is technically legal because there are no laws on copyrights here.

Earlier I watched the sun start to set around 1700 (5 pm).  I thought about how soon I’ll be coming back to the United States.   It’s been a while.   A lot of my friends have moved on or graduated.  I have no idea where the hell I’m going to live.  College is there for me, obviously.   But do I want to go back to dealing with the general college population?   Most of them have done nothing with their life.  They don’t know what it’s like to go a week where sleep is a two hour chunk here or there.  Or staring at a huge lake hidden at the top of a mountain range while waiting for an evac chopper, freezing because the wind chill is pushing the temperature close to zero.

I’ve seen plenty of things I wish I could forget.   Yet, I don’t want to forget them.

The holidays are coming up.  I’ll be out in the mountains.  Some of my friends back in the States asked me what I wanted as gifts.   I have no idea.  I don’t want movies or CDs.  I have enough books.  I really want for nothing.  Everything I need I can procure easily enough.   Wants?   Well, I have some electronics that are handy and occupy my time.   Damned if I know what I want.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

My boss is out of the office at the moment.   It’s nice to often have a decent sized office to myself.   On the totem pole, personnel on the lowest rung DO NOT get an office to themselves except when it’s mostly used as storage space.   I’m literally stuck between lawyers and priests, which is pretty amusing.   The Law and God are on my sides, as I like to put it.

Looked into buying a HK94/MP5 clone.   Not too badly priced at $1200 but I still don’t want to shell out that much.   So I’m thinking of going with a MPA 971 9mm semiauto “Sports Rifle”.   Basically it’s a pretty ugly 9mm carbine that has a 70 round drum.   Reminds me something of a modern Thompson.  If one used hollowpoints, it would be a very good defense weapon.  Need to see if a Pennsylvania Concealed Weapons Permit would allow it to be concealed.

Personally, I’d rather have the micro-SAW that Swedish Special Forces let me play with.   It’s a M249 SAW with a cut down barrel, an extendable stock, optics rail, and a few other extras.  When fully compacted, it’s maybe two and a half feet long.  Doubt US laws will ever let me have one.

I had a good time shooting with the Swedes.   Great guys, probably the most fun I had since I got here.  Literally fired off thousands of rounds.  The range was a sea of spent brass casings.  I ended up coming back that day wearing more Swedish gear than American.   Had on a Swedish Sergeant cap, a mess of their unit patches and a combat knife.   They informed me that I was welcome to any bar near any Swedish base, and that I was one of their brothers.   So, if I ever go to Stockholm, they’re gonna throw one hell of party for me.  The offer still stands for any of the Swedes come stateside.

Saw Matrix Revolutions.  It was pretty good.  Agent Smith at his best yet again.  Decent music.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003


Back from Bulgaria.  With a bit of a headache.  Doing a row of vodka shots will do that.

If one ever goes to Bulgaria, I recommend hitting the cultural sites, walking around downtown Sofia and drinking the lager called “Zagorka”.  It’s cheap, and ain’t too bad.  I think I was paying $0.75 per bottle.

Went to see some various castles, some very old Bulgarian Orthodox churches, and a number of night clubs.  All were very impressive.  The hospitality was incredible in most places.  No place will automatically serve you a check, one must ask for it.  They see it as rude to interrupt your meal.  Course, it drives one near insane remembering that shaking your head means “yes”, and nodding means “no”.   Just go with “da” and “nee”.

Went to a casino to pass some time.  The floor manager was formerly a member of my Division.  I honestly did not believe him until he started rattling off the old places he went to drink outside of the small base the division comes from.  Small world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Spent the morning in a helo.   Winds got pretty bad in the mountains.  The damn aircraft was flying at a 25 degree tilt because of the crosswinds.   Still, I got a chance to get out and around.

Just finished up “Red Rabbit” by Clancy.   Decent stuff, involved around the attempted assassination of the Pope.  More I get around, the less amusing I find “action thriller” books.  Some of them are pretty accurate, but it’s just not the same.  Techno Thriller books are just bloody amusing.  Considering how often Microsoft products crash, I would not trust computers with my life if I could avoid it.  When I say this, people often point out computers in cars or airplanes.  Most cars have microcontrollers rather than full fledged computers.  ICC chips embedded in vehicles are technically “computers” in that they compute numbers, but they are moreso overgrown special purpose circuits rather than general purpose computational devices.

The more complex software gets, the more likely the odds of errors creeping in.  Not just coding problems, but often enough design problems that crop up.  Managers give different specs to differenct prograsmmers.   They often change the specifications without giving notice to all the programmers and generally do not completely check that the old code is compadible with the new requirements.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Finished the frame for my robot, WINTERMUTE.  Not too shabby.  I wish I had access to Radio Shack or any other electronics store.   There’s a lot of things I want to add or change but it takes weeks to get parts out here.  I don’t care for the front wheels especially.  I want to go more with a suspension system closer to RC cars.

There’s plenty of room for improvement on the hardware, but programming it will take time.  A program called Stragos is great for visual mapping and such.   One lays out a grid map of whatever environment.   You can set routes and such.  I wonder if it comes with the API to have the robot use sensory feedback alter the maps on the fly or if I’ll have to code ’em.

Picking up a good mic and a set of external speakers.  Also need a USB hub.   Blah, so many USB devices.   Thank all deities for USB, I’m old enough to remember serial and parallel ports.  Always hated them.  USB devices are getting better and better.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Another cold rainy day.  This apparently is the wet season in this part of the world.  In a way, it’s kinda nice.  Very quiet except for the light sounds of the rain hitting metal.

I wish it’d start snowing.   This place looks very beautiful when covered in snow.

Sometimes I stare into the night sky and wonder what’s going to happen.   Eventually I just let it soak in that whatever happens will happen whether I like it or not.  One must bend to the circumstances of one’s position.  The willow tree bends in the wind until the time comes that there is a wall of willow trees.  Then the wind bends to the willows.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Got some presents in the mail.  Bunch of nifty stuff.  One of my friends sent me a mini Rock garden.  I used to own one a long time ago.  Also a nice lil water fountain.  I like it.  Kinda relaxing.  Ever since the incident involving me sending three military police to the hospital, I was unfairly stereotyped as being a bit on the violent side.   So I get some interesting looks when I’m working on my rock garden and meditating.  There is a place and time for everything.   Just because I happen to be good at something (violence), does not mean I wish to employ it all the time.

Got a copy of Underworld on DVD.  Great movie.  The imagery was very beautiful.  Could have been better in a few minor details, but all and all, I liked.  The costumes were pretty decent.

Lately I’ve been feeling kinda off.   Maybe it’s the short days and long nights.  It’s fairly dark by 4:30pm.  By 5:30pm, it’s very dark.  Haven’t been sleeping well and I’ve been dreaming lately.  Can’t say I care for dreams very much.  The end of my stay here is coming to a close fairly shortly.  But that’s not what’s bothering me.  Something else is.  Can’t put my finger on it exactly.

I look like hell.  More than normal.  I need a long vacation.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Snow.   It almost looks nice around here when it snows.  It hides how ugly this country looks.  It also seems to deal with the excessive air pollution for a few hours.  Anyone that rags on environmentalists should take a tour of Eastern Europe.   After seeing commie environmentalism at its finest, one wonders if the eco-nuts have a point.

I spent some time with the demo guys a few days ago.  Set off 150 bricks of C4.  I still love the warnings on the side of each brick, basically saying don’t eat C4 or set it on fire.  You can actually cook with C4, it will burn nice and evenly without exploding.  But if, you try to stomp it out….    C4 needs heat and pressure to explode.  Still, treat it with respect.

Probably going to watch my pirated Matrix Revolution DVD.   As this region has no international statis, there are no copyright laws.  So, pirating music is technically legal here until the UN cracks down and changes some treaties.  Unlikely to happen.  Damn UN people are too busy breaking their own speed laws and acting annoying in general.   Craziest drivers I’ve ever seen are UN personnel.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Every time life seems to almost be normal, something unusual happens.  Today, I made a deal to trade Hershey chocolate for access to an AK47 and a few thousand rounds of ammo.  It is a weird world at times.  I hear from my friends back in the real world.  A lot of them are working unhappy jobs, dealing with college stress…   I got my own problems, of course.  Everyone does.  But they’ll never do things like this.  I’m not sure a lot of them will understand remotely what it’s like.

A long time ago, a professor told me life would be very different “in the real world”.  At the time, I knew he was technically correct, but he didn’t exactly understand what he was talking about.  I’ll have to stop by and say hello when I get back.

Things have been alright recently.  Not great, of course.  But good enough.  Won’t be too long till I’m out of here.  It feels nice.  The snow is melting, which is a shame.   There’s a lot of ice around, so one must be careful.

Been putting all my spare time into development of my robot Wintermute and my web site.  I lack access to tools and programs here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Wonderful.  Checking my gear.  GPS, radio, IR strobe, NVGs.  Spare batteries for everything.

I lived my life the way I wished.  I have few regrets.  Many times before an important choice, I asked myself if I would ever regret my decision.  It’s vastly amusing how quickly life can turn from pretty calm into a world of hurt.  Tis the way of things.

Things will turn out ok.  They always do.  So I keep telling myself.  Best prepare for the worst anyways…

Saturday, December 20, 2003

The snow is melting.  I like snow.  It really covers up a lot…  Snow purifies the world, cleansing it.

A few nights ago, I was on the border.  The snow was falling hard, and the wind drove down the temperature.  It was so cold, it burned the skin.  The silence was a change from the constant background sounds.  Only a few lights shown in the distance.

This is very different.  Everything of this place is different from the states.  We are trapped in this cage.  We can shop at only one place, and they screw us over on a regular basis.  I guess this reminds me of “company stores” of coal mining towns.

I got a few Iranian rugs today.  They’re absolutely beautiful.  They had to have taken a year to make.  Someone literally slaved over these rugs everyday, making them beautiful.  I will never know who it was.  A man or woman.  Cruel bastard or caring person.  Learning this skill had to have taken at least a decade of training.  Considering the size of the rug, it had to be a true master.

One of the Turks was explaining to me how much people in his country made in a week.   $50 was about average.   $35 was spent on food, housing and transportation.  $15 was spent on clothing, entertainment, consumer goods.  He explained that he and many of his countrymen loved American goods because he knew they would last a long time.  Expensive, but quality.  I hear occasionally about people making over $100k whining about how little their money goes.  Sigh.  Perhaps Americans define themselves by consumerism a lil bit too much.

Screw it.

I don’t exactly understand why people seem to trust me or think so highly of me.  I merely try to avoid trouble and do my job.  Attention is a dual edged sword.  I don’t really try to avoid it, but I don’t go looking it.  Suppose it does not help that I’m not exactly the most subtle type.  My idea of subtle is a bottle of whiskey, a battle axe and a full length duster.

I’ve been trusted with much for my age and official level of experience.  No one has ever told me why.  I guess it’s because I have completed every mission and assignment I’ve been handed.  Failure has happened, it does time to time.   I would actually enjoy some constructive criticism.  No one really gives me a complete picture of what they see me as.

Maybe because I’m carrying an assault rifle and ammunition every second of every day.   Heh.  Ah well.  It happens.

Monday, January 05, 2004

I miss the States.  The freedom to go where and when I please.  To have a cold beer, or some good Italian food.  I think I got minor case of food poisoning from the food at the Chow hall.  Hardly surprising, but still not fun.

I definitely want to get some good Italian food when I get out of here.  Here, the local manner of making spaghetti is to include a generous helping of water at the bottom of the bowl.  I guess they don’t strain it to remove nearly all the water.  Often enough, they serve spaghetti with a couple different sauces, not to include tomato sauce.  Not many tomatos are grown in the Balkans, supposedly.  I’d commit assault for a good bottle of tomato sauce..

It’s the little things that get annoying as the months go by.  The limited selection is the biggest thing.  “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murphy comes to mind when describing life, for the most part.  I’ve gone out of my way to try to mix things up a bit.

Got a medal recently.  I really don’t think I deserve it, I was just doing my job.  Maybe it was in recognition of my copious expert knowledge in profanity in multiple languages.  Ok, replace “expert” with “enough to get around”.

Yule and New Year’s passed.  Nothing special.  There was plenty of snow, which I always like.  I had off New Year’s Day, kinda.  Kinda being that I had to work that night.  Wasn’t really worth celebrating without ice cold alcohol, none here.

It’s hard talking to friends and family back home.  There is a lot I do on a daily basis can’t tell them about.  It’s healthy to have someone that one can talk to about nearly any subject.  I have mentors that I talk to time to time, but I can’t meantion most of my day over computers.  Computers lack a lot of human qualities, especially in the infinite amount of information conveyed by facial expression, galvanic skin response, and voice tonal.  (In other words, talking face to face.)

Monday, January 05, 2004

At times, I really think this world is a very odd place.  Most of the time it seems very clockwork in a perticular manner.  Sometimes, weird things happen.  The rational mind tries to correct these anomalies.  The average person is not perceptive enough to see or they automatically ignore such things.  At times, one wonders if the lunatics might be the sane, and the rest of us are off balance.

The one thing I’ve learned is to trust the instincts.  The subconscious mind sees more than the conscious and processes information more quickly.  This land is one giant graveyard.  Wars have been faught here for centuries.  I think this land is either cursed or spiritually poisoned.  Regardless, I recommend staying the hell out of the Balkans in general.

Friday, January 09, 2004

New lesson for the day.  Chopper rides at high altitudes are very cold.  Very tall mountains are extremely cold.  I was wearing so much cold weather gear it wasn’t funny, and the winds nearly knocked me sideways.  Thank the eternals that I had the intelligence to go with my nonregulations polar fleece and neopane ski mask.  The air will burn your face within a few seconds up there.

I miss beer.  Really badly.  But I’d commit assault and battery for a good Italian meal, damnit.  I’m craving it for some odd reason.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Bah.  Bad memories.  My sleep was not helped by a rude and arrogant roommate that was encouraging his favorite football team.  Unfortunately, said roommate is currently protected so I would be doing time if I assaulted him.  He happens to be a member of a minority, and is complaining that he’s being oppressed by people asking him to keep the noise down past midnight.  At about 3 am I am tempted to violently destroy the TV and lights that he insists on turning on.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

It’s been a decent day.  Had the office to myself again.  Boss left the country for a while, I’m doing his job.    Did some cleaning and disposing of surplus “stuff” that tends to accumulate in any office if you’re not careful.  Got to listen to my own music.

Been running around a lot recently.  Tis how it is, I suppose.  Packing up and getting ready to ship stuff back stateside.  Fun stuff.

Soon enough, Italian food will be within my grasp.

I have fought superior numbers before.  I’ve fought people when they’ve had weapons and I have not.  I have been taught very well how to fight to maim or kill any enemies.  Unfortunately, this also means I can’t fly off the handle and send this guy to the hospital just because he’s been interrupting my sleep for weeks.

It just doesn’t seem right that in this day of ‘freedoms’ and ‘equality’, a hypocrit like him gets to hide behind a cloak of ‘oppression’ to hide being rude, arrogant, lazy bastard.  In a better world, I would be allowed to take care of the problem instead of letting it continue unchecked.  Sigh.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

This one is gonna be short.  I’m in the middle of nowhere.  I see one person once a day.  Sometimes people pass my location, however it’s rarely.

Because food takes such a long time to get here, it usually cools to room temperature by the time I can eat it.  So, now I’m fighting something that might be food poisoning.  Wish they’d just give me damn MREs.

Good news is I’m getting more sleep than normal.  The end of this hellhole is in sight.  Soon enough I’ll be able to sleep in, enjoy an ice cold beer and eat real food that won’t kill me.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Still feel like hell.  Better, but like hell.

I spent a week at a remote outpost way out in the middle of nowhere.  Now that I’m back, I wish I was there again.  Too many people here, crammed into a small area.  Too many officers.  Have to watch what I say and to whom.  ugh.

A friend of mine told me that an old Canadian alcohol mandated a portion of Canada’s rum production must be diverted to the military.  So specific parts of the Canadian Armed Forces get a literjon of rum every week.   These days, drinking is so damn restricted in a military environment, it’s not worth it.  If you have rank, you can get away with anything.  If you’re low ranking, you can and will get hit with anything.  Real or imagined.

Screw it.  My tour is ending soon.  I think I’m getting tense because the end is so near, yet so far away.

Beer and italian food.  That’s all I want.  An ice cold beer, and good chow that won’t mess with my system.   Nothing like selecting an evening meal based on the likelihood of it making you sick.   Didn’t see that on the recruiting poster.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

SF was kind enough to drop off a lil gift to thank me for some of the stuff I “procured” for them.  They’re decent guys, all and all.   Heck, they took some time to teach me some more shooting techniques.  Their pistol training is very good, I’m familiar with firing 9mm handguns already but it was a handy way for me to teach other new handgun shooters.  Their rifle techniques are handy, but I carry an M16A2 so not everything carried over as well.

I’m not sure whether their Sergeant Major paid me a compliment or what, but when he stopped by the range, he asked me what section I was in, what class I graduated in, why wasn’t I carrying a knife, etc etc.  I kinda just gave him a blank look until it dawned on me that he thought I was one of their soldiers.  Considering I had shot groups equal to about half his soldiers and I had my GoreTex jacket on…   The GoreTex rain jacket has no unit insignia nor any name.  Just my rank, Specialist.

He was kinda amused that a Signal spec4 would be the only bastard crazy enough to WANT to do weapons training in the snow.  He was nice enough to give me a lift back to civilization.  Not sure whether his politeness was pro forma or because he thought highly of my shooting.

I shot damn near every weapon carried by any European military.  The only exception I think is the British carbine, which I don’t care for so much anyways.

The M16 started its life as a deathtrap for soldiers.  Units forced to carry the original M16 were slaughtered.  The first unit in Vietnam to get in an even fire fight with VNA soldiers carrying AK-47’s received 93% casaulties.  The M16 has made a lot of improvements, of course.  But in the recent Iraqi War, incidents like PFC Lynch’s weapon’s jamming are still common.  We’ll never know how many American casualties were directly or indirectly tied to the M16, but it has been too many.

Anywho, I get out of here very soon.  Back to ice cold beer and hot Italian food.  It’s so close I can feel it.  I won’t miss this place, but I will remember with fondness some of the memories of the experiences I had here.  I don’t think I’ll ever have some of the experiences I’ve had here again.

Friday, February 06, 2004

At the moment I am trying to control my seething rage.

In certain subjects I am more sensitive than others.  Insulting my intelligent and my age are right up there on the list.  Calling me an idealist is rather off the mark, as I’m a very cynical bastard. The other comments went south from there.

The person threw some rather deep stabs is a friend of one of my friends.  My friend wants the two of us to be friends.  This was not a good first impression.  I know how deeply it will hurt her if the two of us get off on the wrong foot.  I had no problems with the guy until he made rather insulting and unjustified comments.  I’ve known her for ten years…

Sigh.  I’ll let her know how I’m feeling and the reasons why.  I know she will more or less understand.  How she deals with him is her choice.

I almost never give second chances.  Usually I trust my first impressions.  If this is not extending the olive branch, I have no idea what is.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The end of my time in this hellhole is coming.  When I’m not outside the wire, sometimes my thoughts go to what I’ll do stateside.

I have no place to live, no job, no furniture, etc.  Heck, the sneakers I own are over a year and a half old.  No place to buy new ones around here.  Most of my friends have moved on.  I still chat with them, but they’re progressing.  I’ve spent much of my last few years doing stuff for the Army.  Usually going from one unnice place to another.

I know I’ll work something out.  But the future kinda unnerves me.  99% of the time I just focus on the here and now.  That’s the best thing to do when you’re carrying live ammo.  Losing focus can be a bad, bad thing.  It also bothers me that a few people are rather worried about me.  It’s nice to know people care, it really is, but I don’t like having their worries hanging over me.  Again, that’s why it’s best to forget and focus on the present.

A medal and $2.50 will get you a cup of coffee.

I know spending time around college kids will drive me insane.  Most of them don’t have a damn clue about the world.  I’ve seen first hand how they react to bad situations.  They’re weak of spirit.  What they see on CNN means nothing to them.  Having a tenured professor try to explain ‘the real world’ to me drives me even further up a wall.  90% of what most people learn in school is worthless.

Still, sometimes I see something restores a little bit of my hope in humanity.  Questioning authority, seeking truth, dissent.  College kids volunteering to work at a shelter, or raise money for charity.  Even if they don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of charity, it’s good that they care.  I’ve seen ‘adults’ sneer at this showing of humanity, using terms like ‘naive’ or ‘bleeding heart liberal kids’.  The smug accomplishment of sucking down oxygen for a few years hardly counts as being superior.

I saw photos of the protests in Miami.  Hundreds of police fighting unarmed kids, for the most part.  Some of those kids showed more bravery than I’ve ever seen.  In one clip, a young girl was hit with a less-lethal projectile that seriously injured her, dropping her on the spot.  Contrary to popular opinion, less-lethal projectiles and weapons cause serious injury and death.  Another girl ran up to where the fallen girl was lying,  picked up a burning CS canister and threw it away so other kids would rescue the injured.  I know exactly how hot those cans get when burning, and I know whoever that brave kid was, she was gonna need major work to repair the burned flesh on her hands.  She did this while having who knows how many weapons aimed at her, knowing full well what could happen, with no means to defend herself.  I sincerely hope that if needed, I could show a fraction of the courage that young girl showed.

Six hours of guard detail in the freezing cold.  We ‘procured’ a Hummer to keep warm in, thankfully.  It’s not so bad if you get a detail with a decent person and can make a conversation.  We had a long discussion on various animals we killed, cleaned and cooked ourselves.  Since the other guy grew up on a farm, there was some good stories.

I got three medals for my work, and four ‘I Was There’ medals.  Plus all the badges I accrued.  Schutzenschur, US weapons, etc.   Whee.

All I really did was my job.  Screw it.  Other people, not meantioning ranks, got plenty of much higher medals for shuffling papers and sucking up.  At least I got things accomplished.

Friday, February 13, 2004

In retrospect, it’s not much of a mystery why lately I’ve been feeling tired all the time.  I keep a tight reign on my emotions, of course.  But I’ve been getting annoyed a lot more easily than usual.

Hardly surprising considering that I’ve been living off of stimulants (caffiene, nicotine, etc), sleep deprivation and stress for many months.  Basically, I’m used up and need some recovery time.

The regs call for a two week leave because of our long deployment. Our commanding general said “No”, that we couldn’t afford losing personnel for that long.  Of course the General, a few Colonels and a Sergeant Major went stateside for a week for a two hour ceremony.  They went TDY, meaning it counted as work, not as leave.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Free, free at last.

Gods, it’s so freaking odd being back amoung Americans again.  I went to a mall to get my cell phone activated again.  Seeing healthy people, overweight ones at that, was a shock.  No burning piles of trash, no starving dog packs, no assault rifles anywhere.  Stores filled with consumer goods, most of it useless.

No black markets, or even grey markets.  If I saw a parked van, I didn’t have to be careful, wondering if it had any explosives.  No UXO (Unexploded Ordinance).   The majority of the cars are actually bought, instead of stolen from Germany.

Legions of civilians.  These lacked haunted looks.  Those that were my own age seemed young and weak.  I saw a couple of kids in their younger 20’s attempting to put off a ‘tough’ demeanor.  In my mind, I automatically assessed their abilities, likelihood of carrying weapons, where their reinforcements would be, and what level of training they had.  I automatically relaxed when my assessments told me I could mop the floor with them and any buddies they had in the wings.  No thoughts, only reflex and instinct.  Gods, I need a beer.

I really haven’t had a decent meal yet.  I’ll stop at the supermarket and buy stuff to make a nice meal for myself.  My package from Stone Brewing Company did arrive.  Ruination Ale, Arrogant Bastard Ale, Double Bastard Ale, Stone Porter, etc.  Drinks worthy of Baccus himself!

I look at the civilians around me.  They don’t see anything.  They operate on instinct alone, blind to everything.  Part of me thinks of them as weak cattle, another wonders how lovely it must be to be as blind and dim as them.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Went to a party tonight.  Went alright, had fun.

Bah.  A reminder that I don’t fit in well with the rest of my age group.   I did have a good time, but there were constant reminders that I don’t belong in that world.  Not sure where I do belong.

The Darkness sinks in, as I stare into the beautiful stars.

The feeling of being alone has finally sunk in.  It tagged at me once in a while when I was deployed.  Here, I realize.  For all the good and bad, I’m alone in a world of my own making.  It’s for the best at the moment, it really is.  I have an uncertain life, and I don’t want to hurt anyone that cares about me.  It’s enough to look forward to a brighter future, maybe that I’ll find my tranquility.  All things are possible.

Until then, I walk beneath the stars, alone but free.

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Ruffling through some of my old writings

I wrote the following on Tuesday, March 02, 2004.  I was going through some old writings and found it entertaining.

Life always finds a way of amusing itself at my expense.

I’m staying at a friend’s place at the moment, and it is lasting a few more days than I expected.  So, I needed to pick up some supplies.  Smokes, Mtn Dew, and a shirt.  Ah yes, a cheesy overpriced t-shirt from a skate shop.  Didn’t care for the logo, but a shirt is a shirt.

Since I was there, and had nothing else to do, I decided to go see Lord of the Rings, the third episode.  It started at 8:00.   It was 6:38 at that moment.  Damn.  Well, picked up the shirt and the smokes.  Dew I wanted cold, so I could wait until the movie was over and pick it up at a convience store.  6:53.  Still had an hour to kill.  Damn.  Well, food was sounding good and there was a nice Chinese place at the lower level of the strip mall.  Beijing Moon.  Good stuff.

Ordered beef Lo Mein and a pizza roll.  Finished both and was having a relaxing tea, as I toyed with the few remaining noodles of the lo mein.  Hunting for any hidden beef remains that may or may not have existed.  Pop pop.  9mm semi auto.  From working with the M9 in the Army, I knew what a 9mm sounded like.  Crack.  Probably a .38, a revolver at any rate.  Low caliber.

I remember continuing to sip on the nice tea, even as some glass flew into the booth in front of me.  I was the only customer in the place, and two cute young ladies were behind the counter. After the shooting stopped, I motioned for them to stay still and stay down.  Despite using Army hand signals, they got the idea.

Outside, several people were running in different ways.  One was limping towards the beer distributor.

I went in, told the ladies to call the cops and some paramedics.  Waited a few moments to make sure no bullets flew again.

At the beer distributor, the guy that was shot was on the ground.  He wore a grey shirt, so the oxygenated blood showed up very clearly.  Single entrance wound, left hip.  Meant the bullet was still in him.  Blood was not shooting out, so it’s unlikely a major vein or artery was hit.  Of course, lucky for everyone, a brand new cotton t-shirt makes a wonderful pressure bandage.  I got a bystander hold the shirt down and keep pressure.  Cops rolled in very quickly, I identified myself as a medic.  Partially true, everyone in the Army is given some medical training.  I went through a combat lifesaver course myself.  Close enough under the situation.

I kept the victim talking.  He meantioned his stomach hurt.  There was a funny lump underneath his sternum.  Yep.  9mm.  Right under the skin, foot and half perhaps from the entrance wound.  Not anything to do but keep pressure on the entrance wound and wait for the paramedics.  Put my jacket under his head to make him more comfy.  Minor bleeding by his left ear.  Because the gunshots were so close, my guess is either powder burns, or he fell and scrapped himself up.  Couldn’t tell.  Superficial anyways.  Probably stung tho.

Paramedics eventually showed up, tho.  I helped prep the IV bag.  Not that hard.  You stick the bag with the non-needle end of the line, run some saline through to clear out the air.  Turned the drip off and handed it over to the medic.  He stuck the guy, as I held the bag.  Eventually the rest of the medics brought in the stretcher, and took him off my hands.

I went outside and lit up.  The cop asked me firmly to wait inside the beer distributor.  Not normally a problem, but I didn’t want to put out my smoke.  Cops questioned me, took my info, then released me.  A reporter from Chan 8 was onhand, of course.  Out of politeness, I provided some loose details on the shooting.  She commented on my hair, and asked if I was military.  I meantioned I was just getting back from overseas.  The look I gave the camera guy as he was setting up was enough to let him know how much I would be pleased with talking on tape.  As I said, they were polite, so I was polite.

7:54.  Six minutes to get to Lord of the Rings.  Good timing.  The movie was alright, all and all.

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Politicians and Civil Rights Reform

Politicians, bah.    Gods, Hope n’ Change is wearing thin these days.

Folks did not like the NeoCon rule.  The excessive fearmongering, Iraq, excess spending, infringements on civil liberties, creation of entire new beaucracies, etc.  It ended up with Bush having an extraordinarily low popularity, and with Congress having even less popularity.  Comes the election.  Change is promised.  It sells, the bums are thrown out.  Not much changes.  Few if any of the Bush era excesses are repealed.  Certain Republicans are shocked (shocked!) that now the shoe is on the other foot.  They are actually surprised when their base is declared the enemy.  DHS is declaring right wing extremists, primarily veterans, are the most significant threat to the United States.

The difference between Democrats and Republicans is little more than rhetoric and a few unimportant wedge issues.  Both love spending, taxing, controlling and economically destroying US citizens.  The only significant advancements in civil liberties are those that the citizens take for themselves.  Either through the courts or forming special interest groups powerful enough to threaten the politicians.

The US Constitution was written to strictly limit the role and abilities of the federal government to specific activities.  If an activity is not enumerated in the Constitution, they are not allowed to do said activity.  This has been strongly ignored since FDR.  Now, the view is the federal government is allowed to do anything which is not strictly forbidden.  The Bill of Rights is only marginally enforced by the courts.  The Executive and Legislative branch have given up nearly all respect for the Amendments enumerating specific civil liberties, and only bow to it when forced to do so by special interest groups.

A lot of folks in the media are giving the NRA flack for actually trying to have the Second Amendment respected and enforced.  They claim that the NRA is manipulating Congress and the courts for malicious purposes.  The Second Amendment is very clear in its intentions.  The Constitutional arguments that it applies only to the National Guard or only allows government entities to be armed is beyond tortured logic.  There is no government on this planet that has ever existed that has denied itself weapons. None.  Even the Vatican grants weapons to some of its employees.  The sole purpose of the Second Amendment is to ensure the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  Why this is necessary is interesting philosophic debate, but is not essential to the central point.  Folks are allowed to have guns and the government bears a heavy burden in any restrictions they may wish to impose.

My point isn’t to rehash the Second Amendment or RKBA.  It is to point out that the government has a very strong desire to disarm its citizenry.  It is significantly more difficult to oppress a minority group if they are well armed.  It gives the potential for the government to answer to its citizenry.  It’s not a magic wand that grants freedom, liberty and prosperity to all.  It merely gives you a chance.  One you must maintain.  All governments become more restrictive and oppressive as they age.  It is the nature of all governments, as far back as human records go.  The citizenry must hold their own against their own government.  The most intelligent way to do so is to band together for a common goal.  Even if I disagree with the individual actions of a special interest group such as the ACLU or the NRA, I very much agree with the sentiment.  Banding together for mutual protection is the only way to hold your ground, and possibly retake some.

In the last few decades, think of what ordinary citizens have accomplished.  Concealed carry reform has spread.  Obscenity laws have been dismantled.  Income taxes are merely crushing instead of blatantly confiscatory.  The Internet has taken mass information dissemination away from the hands of the few and has given the chance for any one person to get information out to millions.

Despite the plethoria of infringements, there have been a few advances in civil rights directly in spite of our politicians.  Some of these are minor, some are significant.  It grants one hope.  Real hope, not the plandering of a Chicago politician who has never held honest employment in his life.  Get involved, do what you can.  Don’t protest to ‘feel good’, be effective.  Law suits, bribery (the legal kind, campaign contributions), networking, etc.  If what you are doing is not effective, drop it and try a new set of tactics.

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I was talking to Strings the other day. One thing that came up was “you save who you can”. The stuff afterwards is the difficult part. Strings is part of a group called Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA). Good folks. He explained to me that they do check up on the kids after they do their Guardian Angel routine. That was something I’ve never been able to do. Saving a life is easy. Helping them heal and pick up the pieces isn’t. I’ve met a couple natural healers. I’m not talking about putting broken bodies back together, but rather broken minds. Mental wounds cut infinitely deeper than mere physical wounds. Someone who can heal the mind is a gift. Not ‘gifted’, a gift. To show you that hope still exists for humanity.

Once upon a time, I got a call from a friend of mine. Chick had tried to off herself. Cut the wrists and swallowed some pills. I did what I could physically. She didn’t cut that deeply. Ordinarily I’d have appended “thankfully”, but in this case, I don’t know. To keep her awake (so she could metabolise the sleeping pills and alcohol), I asked her about her life and such.

Parents pimped her out for drug money. Started at 10 or 11, she physically couldn’t remember, until she ran at 15. She managed to find a relative who would let her stay. The relative allegedly never verbally blamed her for her parents’ activities, but a kid picks up on it pretty quick. They can read the world through your eyes. Though hard work, the kid manages to get her GED and get a student loan for college. She did ok in college, but still fought depression, suicidal thoughts, night terrors, etc. The usual a kid would go through when they’re old enough to finally truly understand that they were raped for years upon years so that their parents could make a buck. She decided to go to a school shrink and try to work out her issues. She poured her heart out.

Instead of deciding to help the girl, the shrink decided she was a suicide risk and had her involuntarily committed. Apparently, that’s what you’re supposed to do. Proper procedure and just following the check boxes. If the person offs themselves after they’re deemed a suicide risk, the shrink might get sued. The police picked her up. Took her to a state psychiatric facility. It was apparently a living nightmare. Worse than being 12 and raped by random strangers so your parents could get a couple bucks for their next fix. She lied to a board of shrinks convincingly enough to escape. She denied ever being ‘molested’, claimed that her thoughts of suicide were ‘just calling for attention because she was lonely being away from home for the first time’, etc. The facility was enough of a living nightmare that she was willing to torture herself in any way to just get out. I don’t know for certain, but I had a feeling that she may have managed to buy an exit by letting an administrator or shrink have physical relations with her. It was just a feeling and she never specifically said so… Maybe I’m wrong. But I doubt it.

Once she escaped, she had nowhere to go and nowhere to turn. Everyone in her life that was ever supposed to care for her abused her in horrible ways. Her parents, her guardian, her shrink, the state ‘health care’, everyone. She thought it over. Rationally and logically. She decided she would rather die than ever go back. So she tried to off herself.

I was a young soldier back then. I’d seen some horrors in my time. Couple of them worse, but not many. I got her physical trauma under control. But I had no way of healing her. To this day, I don’t honestly think a person ever would heal from such experiences. Maybe learn how to manage their emotions enough to be ‘functional’, but…

While treating her, she came onto me. Gods know why. Maybe because that’s been the only currency that ever bought her survival. Maybe because I was one of the few people that was ‘nice’ to her. At the time, I just wrote it off as being part of her OD’ing. I gently declined as well as I could. It was the ‘right thing to do’, but I could tell the instant I did that another part of her soul died. I only saw it for an instant, only understood it years later when I lost part of my own. It was a no win situation. There is a greater chance that I will grow wings and fly to Siberia than I’d put the moves on a lady who was still an inch away from dying of an overdose. But in doing so, she saw another door slam closed. That she wasn’t worthy of being loved or cared for. I did my best. There was no ‘trying’, I did the best I could. It was not good enough.

I left her in the care of my buddy. They had known each other for a while. He had a crush on her. He was very emotional that she tried to make a pass at me, but knew I was just trying to help her.

I don’t know what happened to her after that. Never heard from or about the girl again. Couple months after the incident, I came home from a couple weeks in the field to find out my friend was sleeping with my girlfriend at the time. I found out on a Friday. He left practically everything he owned and moved a thousand miles away by Monday. It was for the best.

You can’t save everyone. You do what you can with what you have. You always work to improve what you have and what you can do. But most things in this world are out of your hands. This girl was beautiful, intelligent and had such a spark of life in her. The world crushed her soul, it ate her alive. You couldn’t write off her life as being destroyed by one crazy lunatic or a deranged freak. Everyone in her life who should have cared for her ended up betraying her. For personal gain, for sexual gratification, for following procedure, for whatever.

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Self Suffiency

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
– Robert Heinlein

I’m often amazed by folks. I always grew up believing that everyone should logically know how to do a number of activities, or failing that, know exactly who to go to when you need to know. I really do believe that one should be able do roughly do everything in Heinlein’s quote, and more. You don’t have to master a number of skills, just be good enough to get by. Nothing wrong with mastering a skill, of course.


Apparently, tons of people don’t know how to cook. They can usually follow the instructions printed on a box that the food came in, which is essentially just how to reheat pre-cooked meals.

There’s a simple way to learn how to cook. Buy a handful of recipe books or visit recipe web sites. Find 20 to 30 recipes that look simple, have a relatively short ingredient lists and sound like they might be tasty. Try each and every recipe. If it’s overly difficult or a pain to do, drop it off the list. Feel free to experiment with the recipes as much or as little as you please. You should weed out roughly half the list.

Once you have 10 to 15 recipes, stick to it. Eventually you’ll be able to do them in your sleep. If you get bored, carefully archive your foolproof recipes and start over again. Or just experiment with preparation or side dishes.


Sewing is easy to learn and hard to master. You need very steady hands and good precision to do excellent sewing, but it’s not very difficult to learn the basics. Just buy a complete sewing kit from Walmart, a sewing store or a nearby PX. They should only be a couple bucks. Go to a fabric store and buy whatever cloth is on sale. Practice sewing (by hand) straight lines. Rip out the thread and do it a couple times.

To experiment, go find an old pair of jeans or pants. Cut out the front pockets, leave an inch of material. If you want to go the extra mile, cuff the material that’s left. Bend it back and sew a straight line all the way around. Now go grab some cloth. Cut out two roughly identical squares. Sew a big U through both squares. Put two lines of thread in the U. Once you’re done, cut off all the material around the U. Turn it inside out. Now attach it to the material still attached to the pants.

Also practice attaching buttons to random scraps of cloth.

First aid

You always want to keep a basic first aid kit handy. I don’t mean a handful of band aids. At a minimum, buy a pressure bandage, some gauze (both rolls and squares), an ace bandage, and some medical tape. Practice putting bandages on someone. Have them move around a bit. It shouldn’t be so tight it cuts off blood, but it shouldn’t shake loose either. It’s also worth practicing with tourniquets. You can use belts, rope, etc. I prefer dropping a few dollars and keeping a few real ones around.

I noticed that most first aid kits don’t have anything other than comfort items. Anti-itching gels, band aids, aspirin, etc. It’s nice to have that kind of stuff around, of course. But not much of it is really life saving. With trauma injury, time really does count. The faster you start doing something, the better the overall results. I’ve met tons of wonderful EMT’s, nurses and docs. They’re wonderful people for the most part, and often do an excellent job. But they can’t break the laws of physics. If an ambulance is 30 minutes away, it is 30 minutes away. Nothing can change that factor. The entire point of a good first aid kit is to hopefully keep you or another person alive long enough for that ambulance to arrive.

Making a fire

If you’re a hiker or spend any amount of time out of line of sight of civilization, you need to learn how to make a proper fire. To survive for less than 3 days, you just need heat and water. Food is nice, but not completely essential.

You always need a starter, tinder and kindling. A way to pre-fashion a small fire is to get a cardboard egg carton, fill all of the holes with saw dust, put a wad of laundry lint at the top. Cover the entire thing with a light coat paraffin. Cut out each “egg”. Go buy a Swedish FireSteel and keep it handy. To light, cut the paraffin cover off the laundry lint and land some sparks on it. Partially covering the ‘egg’ with wood shavings and twigs. Add slightly larger sticks.

In a pitch, wood shavings, very dry leaves and twigs will do you fine. If the wood is slightly damp, you can shave off the damp layer and it will dry itself out fairly quickly.

If you need one, go get a fire permit. Practice making fires with the least amount of newspaper, lighter fluid or whatnot possible. Another art is making a fire circle. At a minimum, it’s a safety thing. You obviously don’t want to start a forest fire. Just making a fire won’t necessarily keep you warm. Unless it’s pretty big. You want to make the smallest fire you can manage that does the job. You should arrange rocks to redirect heat towards you and hopefully keeping any smoke away. Some people use a dedicated heat reflector or just put a sheet of tin foil on the opposite side of the fire ring.

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USAF Cyber Command and Thoughts on Conficker

Gods, where to start.

Anything important is on a SCADA network. Little critical infrastructure is on Internet accessible networks. The most critical stuff is only monitored by SCADA networks but cannot be given commands over SCADA. Yes, SCADA networks need to be updated to keep in line with advances made in network defense that internet facing networks almost always have.

The NSA and DISA publish good white papers and specifications for securing OS’s, network devices, some applications, etc. They also cooperate with private sector manufacturers and software publishers to promote Information Assurance concepts and resources. They have a good reputation, remain strictly neutral, and usually only advise. DISA is responsible for the overwhelming amount of US military networks, and a surprising number of general government networks. DISA handles the bulk of the hands on information security on defense and national security networks. A lot of server stuff too. NSA does some stuff, but not as much hands on stuff as you’d think. Probably for the best.

I’m not convinced that the USAF’s Cyber Command is little more than a money sink. What can they do that the NSA or DISA is not doing? I suspect their primary mission will be to suck up funds and maybe protect a very few number of networks. On the plus side, maybe they will do some improvements on embedded networks specific to the USAF. That’d be nice. But not critical to the security of the US infrastructure, as they run only more or less internal networks. They turn over more and more of those networks to DISA each year.

While there is a lot of improvement needed in the information security field, it’s not catastrophically bad. Consumers need better security. That’s the biggest threat at the moment. Millions of ordinary desktops and laptops. Infrastructure and corporate wise, infosec is getting better. Govt always needs to get better, but is good enough by and large. The only advice I can give that crosses private and public sector is, more applicable user training. Not the boring CYA legal-ese crap, but short good information. Put your written passwords in your wallet, don’t share them, shred papers you don’t need, if in doubt ask IT, don’t click on stuff you think is off, if something sounds odd ask your security department, etc etc.

IT and IT Security departments need to expand beyond technical issues and also regularly interface with the users. Yes, I bloody well know how problematic this can be. But most users don’t want to work around standard procedures, they just want to do their job in a way that isn’t too painstaking. IT personnel should try to make their user solutions as streamlined as possible.

Some folks in the Obama administration and Congress kicked around kind of national computer security agency to ‘own’ all the networks and make them safe.

A centralized body governing network security is such a bad idea I’m not sure I can make a proper analogy. “You might as well shoot yourself in the head to save time” would be the closest I can come to explaining how bad of an idea it is. Any hypercentralized NSOC (Network Security Operations Center) with legal powers to control every network in the US would be the worst security threat I can imagine. If you find a way into such a NSOC, you can take down everything. As it stands now, if somehow you could take down… say a specific hospital, that didn’t mean you could automatically also take down a nuclear power plant, a jet liner or a Mom’n’Pop small business network. Decentralization means you have a wide variety of different environments. The more diverse and decentralized you make the entire US IT infrastructure, the less likely any one attack vector can do damage to a bunch of different networks using the same trick.

If you wanted to do the same thing in a somewhat secure manner, which is a bad idea, give the central telecoms a right to blacklist IP traffic without legal repercussion and the ability to void their obligation to completing contracts at their leisure but still get paid anyways. The idea is major telecommunication companies could cut off clients that are infected or attacking other networks. Also, legally make the client liable for the costs of the downtime so that the telecommunication company does not have a financial incentive to ignore the attacks. Sounds like a bad idea? It is. But it’s much more secure than the hypercentralized NSOC idea.

Some folks commented that Conficker was a really nasty worm and the media played it up like it was Ragnarök. Also, IT folks were running scared.

Really? Must be a different part of the IT community than I regularly communicate with. Oh sure, we’re all very concerned with users installing malware. Any one worm? Not so much. If you patch your systems regularly, have a good AV solution and hopefully a half decent firewall, there isn’t a worm made yet that the IT community is overly concerned over. Never confuse secondary effects (rush to patch an exploit, or dealing with an upsurge in spam traffic) with the worm or malware itself.

Hell, I was amazed at how much the media was playing up Conficker. The persons that designed Conficker were either really stupid, or didn’t care. If you upgrade to nmap 4.85Beta7 and run the command ” nmap -PN -d -p 445 –script=smb-check-vulns –script-args=safe=1 “, you can determine if the host is infected or not. ( being the target IP, and obviously removing the quotes.) Why? NetpwPathCanonicalize() gives a nonstandard answer to queries. So you ask the worm if it has infected a host, and it accurately says “Yes, I did.”

I’ll grant you, worms are becoming more sophisticated. Storm was designed by someone with a glancing knowledge of secure programming. Not a professional level, of course. Almost, but not quite, respectable. Conficker is worrisome not because it was well written or well designed, but rather because it exploited a nasty hole in all relevant versions of Windows (See MS08-067), which is a hole that gives system level access with no authentication over a network. That’s as bad as an security hole gets. If you’re patched, no problem. If you’re running an AV, somewhat no problem.

Instead of saying “ZOMG! Killer worm! All the geeks are in a panic and predict end of the world”, the media should say “Yo, a routine worm is making it around the internet exploiting a hole patched on Oct 8th, 2008. If you haven’t patched your desktop in SIX MONTHS, please do so. Go to for details on how to do so.”

As we all know, rational dissemination of information ain’t the media’s strong point.

Disclosure: I formerly worked for the US Army and DISA.

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Just saw Quarantine with some friends… Quick overview? Movie was actually half decent, but the characters are dumb as a box of bricks.

This entire rant is basically a spoiler, but it really doesn’t matter too much.

It was shot handheld, which I normally hate. It’s no longer clever. Cloverfield vastly overdid it, making plenty of people nauseous. I could try to be clever, and claim it was a tossup between the characters themselves or the shaky camera that made people want to puke. But anyways, back to this movie. The camera work was just bumpy enough to remind you it was handheld, but not every five seconds nor in an excessive manner. Pretty well done, actually. As I can recall, there was no background music. It’s a subtle thing, but I think it helped set the viewer on edge if you heard various backgrounds sounds rather than creepy music.

The movie starts off with a reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) following LA fire fighters around for a night. Pretty plausible, and the intro gets you using and liking the main characters. One could say the intro was slow, but it worked quite well for character background without being too obvious.

The firefighters get a call, and the crew goes to an apartment building. The building has an interesting layout, and looks like it was rather nice when it was built in the ’50’s but has gone downhill since. Firefighters knock down the door to see a very pale old lady with blood all over her and drooling quite profusely. Ah, zombie, alien parasite or evil disease. My bet’s on zombie!

Well, after biting a couple folks, and getting shot twice, she’s down. Not a zombie. Dang it. I had $1 riding on zombie. The officer put one round in the shoulder, and the second center of mass. If evil looking, shuffling, biting, pale, blood laden, drooling hag ripped a chunk of my partner’s neck out, I’d personally be putting at least one round through the brain. Just to be sure.

Up till this point, all was more or less tactically sound. But after your partner has his neck ripped out by evil looking hag, everything starts going downhill.

At this point, everyone seems to still be possessing some degree of intelligence, because they more or less unanimously say “**** this, I’m out of here!” Wise and prudent. Unless of course, the US Army is in the middle of sealing you in and politely asking you to remain inside for a bit. When half a dozen M4’s are aimed at you by soldiers in MOPP gear, suddenly evil zombie looking hags seem preferable. No gloves, shame on them, someone’s training NCO forgot a class on FM 3-3!

WTF Moment 1 : Ok, there’s a dead cop on the lobby floor. Is ANYONE going to grab his 92 series Beretta and spare mags? No? Sigh…

WTF Moment 2 : Let’s grab everyone in the building and throw them into the lobby with two bodies. Another extremely obviously sick and drooling lady found? Let’s bring her on down as well! That’s the ticket. Because having someone’s neck ripped out isn’t blatant enough.

A handy vet acting as a doc pronounces it to likely be some kind of rabies. Ok, somewhat plausible. More plausible than zombies, so sure. Why not.

Two “CDC” guys come in. One with an M4, the other with an M9 in a thigh holster. Obviously not CDC, most likely USAMRIID but maybe they want to keep a low profile. Alleged CDC guys start doing their investigation, and get eaten. Talk about realism, they depict US government competency absolutely perfectly. Everyone runs away. Which would be normally a good idea, except:

WTF Moment 3 : They secure their only doctor, an M4 and an M9 in a room with infected. But, alas, their brilliant containment neglects the glass windows on the room.

Ok, if you were secured in a building with rabies infected Californians surrounded by a fair chunk of the US Army, would you run away from a single infected half dead dude with tons of broken bones, or beat the dude to death with ANYTHING within arms reach in order to secure weapons and a medical guy?

So all of the lights are out… They do make use of the light on the camera for illumination. WHY THE HELL AREN’T THEY MAKING TORCHES OR LOOKING FOR FLASHLIGHTS? Fire hazard or not, if I’m locked in a building with more rabid drooling Californians than an Al Gore rally, I’m NOT going to go running around in the dark, unarmed.

Now everyone starts dying in very short order. It’s hard to keep track, but soon enough everyone is turned except one firefighter and the reporters. The firefighter is the only person in the entire film who bothers using an improvised weapon, a sledgehammer. So they start running around the building. Then the firefighter dies. Then the camera light dies. Intelligently, the camera guy switches it to night vision mode. Then tries to hide from an infected.

WTF Moment 4 : If you can see and the other guy can’t, uh… Attack? Maybe? No?

Ok, both die. The end.

In fairness, most of the WTF’s happen in a relatively smooth fashion that is unfortunately very believable. No one stops to think at any point. People don’t adjust to their environment. No one really does any planning whatsoever. No one actually looks at their terrain and makes judgments based on it. No one bothers to kill anyone obviously infected before they turn. No one shows more survival instinct than a drunken lemming on quaaludes.

The film’s worth renting. Probably not worth buying. It’s entertaining in a “let’s watch stupid people die” kind of way. It’s a decent reminder that sometimes it’s worth taking a second to think things over.

If I was in such a situation?  The second you get the fact that it’s some kind of virus transmitted through biting or whatnot:  Don’t group everyone together, kill all of the pets, tell people to lock themselves in their apartments, tell everyone to get some kind of improvised weapon, and have whoever is armed patrol the common areas to shoot anything infected.

I’d really like to see a horror movie some day where the characters have a degree of common sense.  Dog Soldiers is the only one I can recall. The rest? Idiots banging on Darwin’s door screaming “Let me in!”

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