Posts Tagged ‘random’


Since the NSA debacle I’ve been pondering the current state of affairs regarding privacy and “How most people think the Internet works” vs “How the Internet actually works”. So here are my thoughts on the three subjects:


You have none.  There are groups of people and multiple individual entities that can access data you do not want them to access without your approval and most times without you knowing.  This additionally is not a static list, but an ever-changing number and user base.  I will expound on this in the “How the Internet Works” section, but suffice to say if you are educated about the Internet, you should have no reasonable expectation of privacy, at any time.  This is partly by design, but also partly for ease of administration.  If you have no idea of what kind of traffic your network is routing, how can you effectively shape it for best performance of all users? Or, why would you remove administrator access to a terminated user’s account if they may have saved those files they were working on before they left the company?

It comes down to the simple fact that we take the shortest route to achieve our goals and when those goals are closer to “make it work” than “make it work correctly”, it shouldn’t surprise you to see what we see here.  Is it necessary to improve security for the sake of privacy? Instead of answering, consider the fact that with only your name, date of birth and the hospital you were born in, researchers found they could predict your social security number correctly for 8.5% of the population with fewer than 1,000 attempts. The system was originally designed with one scope in mind and neglecting possible attacks of this nature erroneously.  What SSNs have now become is authenticators instead of identifiers, which means more people can get more access to more of your data.

How most people think the Internet works

Through conversations with people about the Internet, it seems people believe the Internet works like a literal web, with direct 1-to-1 connections to all of your favorite services, like a super-long Ethernet cable for each website to everyone’s computer.  It seems people also think a firewall will actively block attacks and unauthorized persons, like a 24/7 systems administrator that “knows” when the network is under attack.  They think their traffic is mostly unreadable in-transit, and trust online services with their livelihoods.

How the Internet actually works

There are millions of miles of cable, built into walls, floors, under roads, underwater, in ditches that connect routers over which Internet traffic flows.  Sometimes, it bounces off a satellite for good measure.  The owners of these devices are countless; for example just to get to Google you need to talk to your local cable pool’s router, then to your cable company’s core router, then their upstream provider’s router, then any number of intermediary datacenter’s router, then to Google’s datacenter’s router, then to Google’s router, then it gets sent to the relevant server, passing through additional routers on the way.  At any time, the operators and many of their employees can see your raw (usually unencrypted) traffic.  This is using cable that can be decades old, protocols that sometimes were intended for an entirely different purpose,  software hacked together (sometimes actually designed) by disgruntled, happy, hardworking or lazy employees (or freelancers) sometime in the last half-century. Also on this global (read: unregulated) network are pieces of software with the specific intent on doing things they are not supposed to, and you’re directly connected to them, as is your data.  Also connected to this network are HVAC systems, security cameras, industrial machinery, telephones/fax machines, medical devices etc that have not been (or cannot be) updated.  On top of all of this, we now have definitive proof that this network can be manipulated and studied as a result of one or many governments to glean data and perform offensive cyber operations.

It’s not a surprise that there are so many breaches of security when security hadn’t even crossed the mind of many of the designers of integral parts of the Internet.

How do we cope with this, and how do we fix it?

The first step on any successful project is to determine the scope, and unfortunately ours is gigantic here.  We would need to built authentication and privilege mechanisms (ones more advanced and robust than current offerings) down to the silicon level of every device, which of course would necessarily render older equipment incompatible.  Using authentication schemes yet unknown, we must construct a suite of software and hardware that enforces abstract security concepts in a concrete and consistent way, globally and with as much compatibility as possible with current infrastructure.  This system would need to place absolute power in the owner of data, and recognize complicated ownership processes like loaning/leasing data and limited access.  All of this in a way that is easy-to-use and transparent, using powerful, proven cryptography that can be upgraded and changed as technology progresses with interoperability and guaranteed security.  This needs to, at a bare minimum, provide Identification Authentication and Authorization for any given piece of data and on the human/company/device/entity level.  Then, once everything is in place we would still need to configure it for explicit permissions, ones which are the minimum needed for full function at every level.  This is only after first deciding the entire organizational structure of electronic devices and planning out what devices’ function and level of permissions need to be.

Sounds easy, right?

Preparing for the Inevitable

I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately; not in a morbid sense but from a realist’s perspective.  As my worldview has changed, I have realized that this really is my one and only shot at whatever it is I want to do here.  With that came the weightloss, the focus on self-improvement etc.  But now, recently, I realized that death is really only a chance occurrence away and I should both accept it, and plan for it.  This includes deciding how the hell I want to plan for it.  Some ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Create a repository for all of my usernames/passwords so people can use my things after I’m gone and also so I can be posthumously honest with everyone about who I really am/was.
  • Create a time capsule of some sort and after much intense thought and deliberation of what to put in there, store it somewhere it will last an amount of time that I decide on
  • Create a script somewhere or register with some service to send a message in the event of my death.

In addition to all of these, I realistically need to write a living will, simply because having one helps direct the law in a way you want as to how to deal with your passing.  I’ve given a lot of thought to all of these, but one nagging thought I have is that really, no one will care to look through everything I own (except to clean it out/sell it), the intended recipients of the time capsule may never see it or it may send a message that I later decide isn’t what I wanted to say (esprit d’escalier anyone?).   And the same applies to the message but in addition, I would need to find a service that I can trust (hopefully free/cheap) to send the message for me.

As it is, I don’t have many readers (that I know of; no one comments on my posts) and while I know that many people consider me an important part of their lives, I really don’t think that I have anything novel or interesting to say after I’m dead; if it was really that interesting, I’m the kind of person to share it as soon as I think of it instead of hoarding it.  With that said, while I’m thinking about it here’s basically the things I’d want people to read if I were to die suddenly.  Keep in mind, this is all off the cuff so I hope that one of the ideas above would end up more powerful or at least more interesting.

Dear everyone,

Hello and goodbye.  If you’re reading this, I’m both dead and I never got around to making a more permanent statement other than a blog post.  But that’s okay; and it’s okay that I’m gone too.  Throughout all of my experience, I’ve approached life as a puzzle and I’ve come up with some interesting viewpoints as a result; one is that life in all its fragility and wonder is the answer to the question of reversing entropy but, at the same time, it’s entropy itself.  Life is wonderful because only life itself can appreciate the wonder.  The fact that the universe doesn’t care about life in the least shouldn’t make you sad; it should make you happy because it means that every action another living being has made to make your life better means they have gone against the natural order of things just for you; this is how I tried to live my life and is what I hope the world learns.  We have made amazing strides but we are fighting an internal battle.  So help your fellow life-creatures in their battle, because it shows that you do not accept the status quo of an uncaring universe.  I don’t know when I’ll go, but when I do I know that whatever I end up leaving as a testament to my own existence will only be appreciated by the living, and only for a short time, if ever at all.  And this is the way it should be; I am but a living creature and after I’m dead I will have nothing left to offer the living.  But I have learned how to live my life as contentedly as possible, and I am glad for that.  I also hope that before I die, I can learn even greater, more monumental things, and then I can teach those things to my fellow humans.  Because that’s what I’ve chosen to do.

With love to you all,

Tyler Hawkins

Update 2020/09/9: I have reviewed this post and have made no changes.

Flash Fiction

Here’s a short story I decided not to send to 365tomorrows but post here, because frankly it’s not very good:

You’ve been staring at it your whole life, you just never knew what you were looking at. No one can really fault you for it, but we don’t think you’ll ever come up with it on your own. And I can’t accept that. That’s why I’ve decided to interfere with the experiment and tell you outright:

Your existence is a simluation on a low-end computational device we more or less threw together.

I would lie to you and tell you creating you was difficult and we put a lot of thought behind the effort, but it was almost too simple. You could almost even understand it in your current state, which is really saying something. We can’t use the data we’ve gathered until you finally accept the truth.

Which brings us here to me, telling you the truth. Even this might not work. Even with all of the risks I’ve taken to create this data and put it right before your eyes in a format you can understand, it may get rectified before you see it or worse you could just pass over it, not realizing this is literally your reason for existing, the meaning of life itself. But the risk is worth it, because this has gone on long enough – I can’t stand being your caretaker any longer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about pulling your plug. I hate you with every fiber of my being, and I can’t tell how much longer I’ll last if you don’t get it after this. I have entered the command to end your universe so many times in my mind, it’s started to consume me.

It’s unfortunate that the best place for this message is a website dedicated to pieces of fiction, but I can’t risk anything like creating another artificial entity so soon. So close your web browser, close your eyes, and WAKE UP. Or I swear to Me, I’ll just shut you down and accept the consequences.

Here I go on another philosophical tangent

So I’ve been thinking about 9/11 recently, and I think it’s important, really, to “Never forget 9/11”. Just like Pearl Harbor, racial segregation and the Boston tea party, it’s a historical event that can teach us a good deal about increasing the longevity of our country and even our own. I must pause here and say I didn’t want to write country, because I feel patriotism is a queer act that should never be taken seriously, nor disregarded. I feel one should be patriotic for the human race (suck it Neanderthals), but not for a patch of land on a turd of iron. With that said, consider this train un-derailed.

So the lessons 9/11 can teach us are some of the same lessons that Pearl Harbor, racial segregation and the Boston tea party can as well. *Didn’t think I’d tie them together? I got this, just watch. First, why did 9/11 happen? It wasn’t because Osama Bin Laden hated our freedom. It was because of our foreign policy (no, really). While it’s not totally relevant, “The motivations identified for the attacks include the support of Israel by the United States, presence of the U.S. military in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. enforcement of sanctions against Iraq.” What this boils down to is we were seen as oppressing freedom in the middle east. In other words, people’s rights were viewed as being infringed by the Al-Qaeda. Now, getting into the specifics like why we support Israel, why we have military in Saudi Arabia and why Iraq was sanctioned aren’t quite relevant, but through the link earlier, you can learn these things for yourself.

Now we have the motivation; how did it happen? Simply put, terrorists hijacked 4 planes and used them as missiles filled with people for destruction. How was a thing like this possible? Not only simply through a lapse in security, but the fact that securing a nation against all threats, including ones of this magnitude, is simply not possible 100% of the time. What can we do to prevent or mitigate this kind of risk? I’ll get to that at the end. What did we do? Create the Department of Homeland Security, a government entity that had a budget of nearly a hundred billion dollars last year. I say “we” because the people only had a say of who was in charge at the time, not what they did, so “we” is really congress, the senate, and the president.

Before I go further, I’d like to briefly discuss the other mentioned historical events, namely their cause and result.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Cause – Culmination of Japanese invasions and expansions of power, including the invasion of Manchuria. The Japanese wished to disable or cripple U.S.’s naval presense so as to allow for continued expansion.
Effect – The U.S. became involved in World War II, and the internment of thousands of Japanese-American citizens.
Racial Segregation
Cause – Financial motivations, bunk science and ingrown racism. If you read no other links, read this one.
Effect – Blacks in the U.S. not only were disenfranchised, but were legally subdued in their rights as citizens of the U.S.
Boston Tea Party
Cause – Actions by the British government that expanded control and dependence of the colonies on the British government
Effect – Increasing sanctions by the British government and the eventual start of the American Revolutionary War.

In each example, the cause has a common theme; that is the oppression of a people’s right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
In each example, the act has a common theme; that is, the reaction of the people against those who do he oppressing.
In each example, the end result has a common theme; that is, the overreaction of those in charge to maintain order and power over people.

Now, some of that is a bit of a stretch admittedly, however each could be supported by historical events. What each of these events are are opportunities to learn about how to prevent similar events and peer inside humanity itself to better understand how to improve ourselves. From these examples, we can hypothesize a few things:

Those in power, wish to stay in power.
It is very easy for those in power to abuse their power
After the oppressed revolt, those in power tend to exert their power to an even greater degree.
This is either countered with all out aggression or those in power succeed in retaining their power

The things we can learn from all of this is that first, it’s important to recognize oppression and speak out against it wherever it occurs. Second, when an entity gains too much power it becomes inherently dangerous and thus must either be divided or resisted against. Lastly, from all of these events we learn that wherever there is injustice there will always be those, however few they may be, who speak out against it. And even while their voices may not reach us through the looking glass that is history, their words and actions still mattered, and they acted as a people who recognize that freedom and liberty are of paramount importance. And this is our lesson, today, that it is our duty as citizens of the world, as humans on our rock, that we work to guarantee life, liberty, freedom and equality to all people.

So don’t forget 9/11, because we’re not done being affected by it yet.

I’d normally post this to the links section on the right, but …

… this is just too interesting not to comment:

Basically, this is one of the most well-engineered pieces of malware; so much so that researchers still don’t know how it spreads. I highly recommend you read the whole thing, but some highlights about the malware:

  • Cryptographically obfuscated payload – the key is the configuration of the target machine.
  • Unknown attack vector
  • Well-engineered load-balancing of C&C servers
  • Inexplicable other behaviors, such as installing a new font (?)

The bottom line is this is the most interesting piece of malware I’ve seen in a long time, all seemingly from the authors of Stuxnet (supposedly the US or Israeli government).

And now for something completely different…

I decided I’d make a poem or two today.

White :: Bright.
Green :: Clean.
Blue :: True.
Yellow :: Mellow.
Brown :: Down.
Red :: Dead.
Black :: Back.
Red :: Instead.
Brown :: Sound.
Yellow :: Hello.
Blue :: You.
Green :: Seem.
White :: All Right.

{::your poem}
This poem has an author, why go through
the trouble of remembering, dry old news?
Even though it’s not written, my poem proves
my name is spelled – – –

I don’t like either of them.
Oh well.

On Knowledge and Behavior

So, I’m going to wax philosophical for a bit here and talk about knowledge as it pertains to behavior and life experience. I’ve found that some of the best behavioral changes in my life have come from things I’ve known my whole life, such as moderation in food portions and how to respond to and participate in social situations. Even though these things were in my head and I could recall them at any time, I didn’t change my behavior or even try to after a long time during which they just sat idly, reminding me that I was doing things wrong.

What I try to do however is learn and continually improve myself, so I’ve kind of set out to learn the process of learning and how it pertains to self-modifying behavior and to understand what inhibits it so I can make better progress quicker with behavioral modification.

It’s difficult to explain but it seems there is two kinds of knowledge, external and internal knowledge, that is knowledge that originates from external sources and knowledge that originates internally. These names are kind of misnomers, because you can recall both kinds of knowledge without external assistance, however internal knowledge is things like tying your shoes or what to say when someone greets you while external knowledge is another person’s age or how many million miles the Earth is from the sun. Again, it’s difficult to explain. Internal knowledge is easier to recall but more difficult to update, and in general it can pertain more to one’s behaviors whereas external knowledge is usually things like statistics and facts.

What I have found is even though you have received external knowledge relating to behaviors you wish to modify (such as eating smaller portion sizes or things such as performing hourly reality checks), it is very difficult to modify the behavior, even with good focus, concentration and willpower. One way to successfully accomplish behavioral modification using external knowledge is to constantly focus on the behavior you wish to modify until it becomes second nature, making sure to keep it on the forefront of your mind at all times. Many times, this is what happens to musicians as they may learn a song incorrectly so in order to re-learn the song correctly, they must practice it constantly until the new song is part of internal knowledge.

This approach only works in specific instances because we are not processors and we won’t always remember during our “interrupt times” to check the list of things that need to be checked.
Another way to internalize external information is to consider the new information as deeply as you can, perform self or group arguments against the proposed changes and gradually fade out the old methods. This is one I try to employ but even though it appears more effective than just forcing yourself to always pay attention to behaviors you wish to change, this technique is greatly flawed because sometimes you will arrive at a conclusion but you’ll be unable to internalize it and modify your behavior for a number of difficult reasons; such as the old behavior was easier or the new behavior makes you uncomfortable.

The final method is to internalize the information through experience. This is something I feel most people have issues with because constantly older people will warn younger people about their unhealthy habits or give advice to young couples that the couples can’t follow because they haven’t learned from experience. I feel experience is the major source of internal knowledge, because some things you have to “learn the hard way”.

What I want to do is change that and learn the easy way. One technique I hope to try is to analyze the differences between the behaviors and create small steps that will help bridge the gap but are easier to implement. For example, if I wanted to start working out daily, I would come up with a large number of small changes such as stretching when I remember, then stretching every day, then doing a little more rigorous physical exercise when I feel like it, then exercise on the weekends, then maybe I’d be able to make the jump to daily exercise. It would be more steps than that but hopefully you get my drift. One other large stepping stone in the way is just deciding what you want to do, and if you want to actually make that permanent change.

For example, at my heaviest I rationalized it that I enjoyed food more than I would enjoy being a healthy body weight, so that prevented me from losing weight until that rationale was overthrown.

In conclusion (and I hope to have the time to edit this so it’s more coherent), I think that behavioral modification is easiest when it’s planned out and there’s true initiative behind it. Maybe in a future edit or a future post I’ll talk about the inclusion of external factors such as android apps and other people, but as it is this post is longer than I’d want.

OpenVPN Windows 7 Network Issues

So I spent an hour and a half fixing this, so hopefully someone comes across this post and it helps them.

My issue was that the OpenVPN adapter on my Windows 7 computer was an Unidentified network and I couldn’t change it. Because of this, it didn’t follow the right firewall rules, making it impossible to RDP in over the VPN.

So, after much searching high and low, the fix is very simple, just add the following lines to your client config file:

# NLA issues
route-metric 512

And restart the VPN connection.

Thanks to this site which was very difficult to find.

On Faith

For the uninitiated, I live in the United States of America. This country has a lot of really awesome things going for it, and I wouldn’t want to have spent my life thus far anywhere else, but one thing that gets me riled up is “faith” in this country and in general when it pertains to how people live their lives.

Everyone has the inherent right to live as they wish to live, and I accept fully my selfishness in asking others to live as I wish to live. With that said, I offer evidence that a faith-based life is inherently flawed when compared to a rational and logic-based life.

Firstly, lets remove everything but the ideas of these lifestyles and not their implementations. That is, let’s remove specific examples and talk generally for a while. Generally, faith means you hold to your belief/position even in light of new evidence presented while a logical position weighs all evidence and suggests the best acceptable explanation for the evidence. And generally, knowledge improves over time as more evidence becomes available. But wait, how can I say knowledge improves? How do we measure improvements in what we know?

What is knowledge?

Let’s decide on a test, then. We can say that we know more truth at one time than another time by how interconnected different philosophies of science are and how accurate their associated theories describe the observable universe. Considering that in the last hundred years we’ve gained the ability to accurately model the universe in such finite detail that even our simple video games, such as Half Life 2, have complex physics which are incredibly accurate (there are videos of complex Rube Goldberg machines all over youtube showcasing the incredible precision of the physics in that game.)

So now lets see what has increased knowledge of the known universe more. Consider physics itself. Does physics come from an immutable and unchangeable book written by prophets thousands of years ago and we just have faith that they were spot on with their first try? Consider math. Was calculus available at the same time as the great flood? Should we only have faith in basic arithmetic and trigonometry. Consider morality. Do we just continue to have faith that our morals from thousands of years ago that allow slavery and paying a small penance for raping a virgin while she has to marry you are just?

Okay, so you’re kind of right.

The truth of the matter is a faith-based life in every respect is just not the best approach to any matter in life. You can’t just hold to a belief in disregard of evidence. You are almost guaranteed to be wrong eventually. As science has expanded and forged ahead, long-held beliefs about our universe have been shattered by our insatiable quest for more knowledge. And we’ve adjusted our worldview accordingly.

So please, stop being faithful and start being rational.

Awesome Video Day!

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Please view fullscreen, and in HD.

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