A Slice of My Day - Hugh Jackman, Mother’s Day, and Southern Gothic

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I saw the trailer for a new movie that features traveling, fighting poverty, and Hugh Jackman. It reminded me of Nanette because those are some of her favorite things. It’s a movie about how one white guy saves the Africans. It’s in the vein of movies like The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise, Dances with Wolves starring Kevin Costner, Avatar starring Sam Worthington, and The Help starring Emma Stone.

Today was mother’s day. Here’s an interview between a mother and her adorable seven-year-old daughter that becomes quite dark for a little bit.

While reading The Sound and the Fury, I searched up the definition of “Southern Gothic,” the genre in which Faulkner’s book belongs.


Confessions of a Noob Landlord II - How to Fix a Gas Range Part II

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I wrote part one of a guide on how to fix a gas range here. Today I follow up with the much-awaited conclusion.

  1. Call the tenant to check if the oven is clean. She says yes.
  2. Call your parents who actually live near the property and aren’t several states away like you. Ask them to drive over and check on the oven themselves.
  3. Eventually learn that some new ovens use some type of material that gives off noxious fumes when you use them.
  4. Lesson learned: Do not buy the Holiday Freestanding 2.4-cu ft piece of crap gas range.

Why We Should All Care About Digital Privacy

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I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about digital privacy in the past two weeks. It’s disconcerting that so many AMericans are resigned about the current state of digital surveillance. Before the Snowden leaks, one could plausibly deny the vast extent of mass digital surveillance, but in this post-Snowden era, this is increasingly hard to do without appearing like you live under a rock.

I recently watched two videos which explain the disturbing extent to which intelligence agencies like the NSA have gone to subvert encryption algorithms and to sabotage critical Internet infrastructure. In this video, Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras talk about how reading through documents leaked by Snowden has led them to believe the spooks have compromised everything including PPTP, IPSec, and even SSH. Everything except for PGP (implementations include GnuPG), OTR (implementions include Pidgin and Adium), and ZRTP (implementations include the Signal and RedPhone mobile apps).

The second video I watched was a talk by Poul-Henning Kamp in which he pretends to be an NSA officer giving a status report to NATO. Kamp talks about the various technical and psychological operations the NSA and its associated intelligence agencies use to collect all digital communications. I’m not sure how much of what Kamp says is true as some parts are deliberately tongue in cheek, but none of them seem impossible. Here are just a few:

  • The NSA spots a startup that’s developing a product that strengthens privacy and thus makes the NSA’s job harder. They send someone who poses as a venture capitalist. He invests money in the startup and gets insider knowledge on what they’re making. NSA looks through their Rolodex of friendly companies for someone with a patent that’s related to the startup’s product. They convince the company to let loose some patent lawyer trolls on the startup. The startup folds or needs to work on something else under legal duress. The founders call the fake VC back saying how sorry they were to waste the VC’s money. The NSA bites its tongue trying not to laugh and busts out the champange bottles.
  • Skype’s encrypted VoIP product was a threat to the NSA being able to listen in on all telephone calls. Skype didn’t use standard protocols, was closed-source, was outside the jurisdiction of the FTC, and the NSA couldn’t bribe the founders of Skype to stop. So the NSA pressured eBay to acquire the company which eBay did. But eBay’s lawyers bungled the deal and didn’t get access to the source code or control the infrastructure. So the NSA made eBay sell it back to the founders at a loss. eBay wasn’t too happy about this. And then the NSA had to spend a lot more money making Microsoft acquire Skype. But it was worth it because this time Microsoft got all of Skype and made the traffic go through Microsoft servers where it could be decrypted.
  • How the NSA regularly derails and slows down open source work by appealing to people’s fear, uncertainty, and doubt; playing the GPL vs BSD card; spawning bikeshed discussions; and soaking up mental bandwidth with bogus crypto proposals.

PGP Best Practices - How to Create Strong and Secure Keys

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I wrote about PGP a while ago and showed how to generate a key. Since then I’ve managed to do what you should never, ever do: forget your key’s passphrase. And I didn’t generate a revocation cert to boot. So I was screwed and had to generate a new one. Forunately not many, and by “not many” I mean zero, people were using that public key which I had uploaded to public keyservers.

I generated a new one and spent a lot of time reading about PGP best practices. Here’s what I learned.


Al-Shabaab’s Attack on Garissa, Kenya - “You’re the Only Daughter I Have.”

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Before Nanette left for her five-month Kiva fellowship in Nairobi, she told me she was memorizing some verses from the Quran.

“Why?” I asked.

“I heard that Al-Shabaab asks their hostages to recite passages from the Quran,” she said. “If you can, they let you go. If you can’t, they tell you to close your eyes.”

I laughed ruefully and took what she said with a grain of salt. After she was accepted into the Fellowship program for Kiva, a nonprofit microfinance organization, the group asked Nanette to list ten countries where she’d like to be stationed in order of preference. Her first four or five were southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. Kenya, the only African country, was somewhere in the middle of her list. When she first heard that Kiva had assigned her there, she wasn’t sure what to make of it. Her excitement in visiting Africa for the first time soon gave away to worry when she found out the U.S. State Department had issued a travel warning against Kenya.

When I first heard of the term “travel warning,” I thought this was a lightly applied label that probably meant the occasional robberies and diseases. This isn’t the case. A travel warning according to the State Department means “Do not go there. At all.”


Nanette on Nairobi’s Hopeful Youth

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On Nanette’s fourth day in Nairobi, she and three other Kiva fellows visited a non-profit organization that teaches disadvantaged youth the skills they need to land jobs and make a living. The Community and Progress Youth Empowerment Institute (CAP-YEI) caters to dropouts, unemployed graduates, street youth, retrenched workers, and pretty much any young person at risk of falling through the cracks. These young people can take vocational courses in information technology, hospitality, automobile, customer relations, and sales. Note: dropout here doesn’t have the same connotation it usually does in the United States. It refers to students that drop out of school not because they don’t want to attend but because their family can’t afford to pay tuition.

The front of the CAP school.

Nanette’s Surprise for Me Before She Left for Nairobi

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Nanette spent the entire night before she left for Nairobi on February 7, preparing a surprise for me. I was working in Stockholm at the time and wouldn’t come back to my apartment to see it until February 25.

“I can’t wait for you to see my surprise for you,” she said.

“What is it? Tell me.”

“Nope. You just have to wait.”

Nanette is good at keeping surprises and secrets. I had to wait until I got back. I kept thinking about what she could’ve prepared. A photo album? It had to be non-perishable to last almost a month.

No matter how many times I asked her, she wouldn’t budge. A playful and endearing smile was all I got. I arrived at my apartment around midnight weary from traveling. Nanette’s suprise had slipped from my mind at that moment. I turned on the lights and saw various photos of us she had printed and carefully placed throughout my room. I picked up one on my nightstand. We are standing in front of the Boston Science Museum. I’m wearing a chambray shirt with jeans. She’s wearing a black tube top, a light blue dress, and black wedges. A disc-shaped multi-colored pendant hangs around her neck, and she holds onto her purple purse and one of her favorite wool jackets.

I saw she had written a note on the back of the photograph.

27) I love you because I know I can explore the world with you as my companion. ♥ Nette


How to Turn the Internet Upside Down

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I read this web page many years ago that described how someone used their unencrypted WiFi network to prank neighbors by turning all images upside down or making them blurry or simply redirecting them to cats. I always wanted to do it myself, but I didn’t have the required knowledge or hardware until now.

In my previous post, I wrote about how I installed DD-WRT onto my Asus RT-N16 wireless router. You might be able to do this prank with the factory default firmware for your router. Your firmware needs to let you do the steps in this awesome tutorial to create a separate guest WiFi network and add custom iptables rules. If it doesn’t, get a better router or flash better firmware.


How to Install DD-WRT on an Asus RT-N16 Router

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I’ve known about DD-WRT for a while and always wanted to play with it (partly because I thought it was needed to do this prank of turning the Internet upside down). My router is leased from Time Warner and probably not supported by DD-WRT. So I bought an Asus RT-N16 router and learned how to flash DD-WRT firmware onto it. The process was easier than I expected but required me to read a lot and be careful. I sifted through mazes of documentation, blog posts, and forum threads to find the most recent and correct ones. I was afraid of bricking my brand new $100 Asus, but I succeeded. Here’s how you can too.

What is DD-WRT and why would you install it?

DD-WRT is open-source Linux-based firmware that can replace and enhance the factory default firmware on many wireless routers. Once you install it, you can SSH, overclock the CPU, setup advanced access restrictions, change the firewall, etc.


How Nanette Got Into Kiva - Part 1

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This is the first part of a series in which I write about how Nanette worked for and finally got accepted into Kiva, a well-respected microfinance organization. She’s now having a great time in Nairobi helping borrowers and improving the operations of Kiva Zip. This series of posts is a gift for her and a tribute to her hardwork.

The sun was setting over Manhattan, and Nanette was staring at Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides on her clunky work laptop. Throngs of tourists seethed through Times Square 20 floors below her at Ernst and Young’s Times Square office.

It was January 2014, and Nanette felt lost and unsure of herself. She had been working for Ernst and Young—EY according to their recent rebranding campaign—for two and a half years. She knew that something was missing, but figuring out what that something was and how to get it, would take her more than a year.