Friday, September 27, 2013

The Dove Has Left the Hat

Effective immediately, Dove Grace Design is no more.

I'd have loved to have been able to say "has closed its doors for good", but in all honesty, they were never really open.  Bad timing, really... besides which, I make a better hacker than a designer any day.

I have deleted the site, corresponding Twitter account, my blog State of Grace, and the domain will expire mid-October.

Priority has shifted to family and household, and free time will be focused on a new research project already underway.  Details to follow.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Have a Secret (Part One): Those who don't know history...

One day, They came a-callin'.

A dozen armed men, brandishing automatic weapons and a warrant still hot off the press, stormed the front door and moved throughout the house.

They grabbed Dad's briefcase and threw him to the ground.

Mom screamed in terror as two large men piled on top of him.

Another grabbed Mom roughly and slapped her across the face, telling her to shut up before throwing her to the ground as well.

Sis was dragged screaming from her room into the main hallway.  "What's happening?!" she cried.

The remaining eight men charged into the bedroom at the end of the hall.  The sole teenaged occupant cowered in a corner.

"Where is it?" barked the leader, "Where's the computer?"

The teenager leapt to his feet, intending to show them the way.  Instead, he felt his ribs crack as the rifle butt hit him in his side.

"Don't fucking move!", yelled the nearest agent.

Crumpling to the floor, he lay in a fetal position, gurgling... possibly from a punctured lung.

"I asked you a question!", the leader screamed, "Where's the fucking computer?!"

"B..b..basement...", the kid gurgled.

"Watch him!", the leader ordered two of his men, while he and his remaining men headed to the basement.


The family was gathered and told to keep silent as they were held at gunpoint, prisoners in their own living room.  The teenager held his side in agony as he leaned against his mother on the couch.

Twenty minutes later, the men emerged.  They each carried armloads of computer and electronic equipment, storage media, books, notes, and pages-upon-pages of printouts.

While the equipment was being loaded into a waiting armored car, a man entered the house.  He identified himself as a member of the FBI.

"Young man," he said, "I am placing you under arrest."

"Why?" cried Mom hysterically, "What could he have possibly have done?!  He's just a kid!"

"Madam, this 'kid' is engaging in serious criminal activity online," the man explained, "We've been monitoring his computer traffic online and, based on what we've seen, he may be facing a lengthy sentence."

Paranoid fantasy?

In light of the recent Ed Snowden case, revelations of NSA spying, and tech companies such as Cisco, Apple, Facebook et al collaborating with spying efforts, you could accuse me of being paranoid.

Yeah, ol' CJ must have been reading Orwell again.

No, upon first hearing the news that the NSA has been spying on the general populace, actively cracking SSL encryption, VPN, TOR, and secure communications, and coercing the tech giants into helping their cause, my reaction was a complete lack of surprise.

You see, it's happened before.  The incident at the beginning of this post actually took place, many times over.

Back in the late 80s, there was a perceived increase in so-called computer crime: the unauthorized copying (and illegal distribution) of copyrighted software, the electronic trading of stolen credit card numbers, generation of fake credit card numbers, the dissemination of information on how to defraud the phone company by manipulating the phone system itself, and info on how to hack into corporate computer systems.

While some of the software and information was exchanged between people in person, via the disk or by samizdat, the vast majority of information was exchanged electronically via the phone lines on Bulletin Board Systems (BBS for short).

For those of you who are unfamiliar with (or too young to have experienced) BBSes, they ran on modest hardware on most of the computers of the day.  Most had message bases (forums) to converse with other users, online games, and file sections to upload and download files.

There were literally thousands of BBSes worldwide... most were stand-alone affairs, while others were parts of larger interconnected networks.

BBSes made it easy to disseminate information and trade files and, while the vast majority of BBS operators and users were using the systems legally (a term interpreted loosely here), there was a small section of people using the systems for more salient purposes.

It didn't take long for the authorities to catch on.  Task forces were formed, and the FBI and Secret Service (hereafter referred to as the nebulous They or Them), with the backing of the phone company, began surveillance in earnest.  They would join BBSes surreptitiously to monitor communications, gather evidence, and to learn how these people were plying their trade.  In rare occasions, They did so with the tacit approval or support of the BBS's Sysop (SYStem OPerator).

Once enough evidence was gathered, the raids began.  Computers were seized, Sysops and users were jailed, and many more scrutinized and/or cautioned.  While many such raids occurred, one of the most (in)famous raids in the hacker world was Operation Sundevil, which you can read about here.

- End Part One -

CJ's note:  This is only the first part of a multi-part post.  It'll be ongoing for the next week or so.  Please refrain from commenting, either here or via social media, until the final part has been posted.  Chances are, any questions, concerns, or rebukes will have been dealt with by the time all is said and done.

CJ's note 12/15/17:  As I've completely forgotten where I was going with this series, Part Two might not be forthcoming.  I may revisit this one again if I remember the original plan, find my notes, or decide to take it in another direction.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where Were You..?

I remember the terror.

We were sent home early that day, in light of the news.  Dad was at work across town, and Mom was occupied with my baby brother and couldn't walk over to get me.

No, I had to walk home alone.

I remember the fear that overtook me, making my walk home that much longer.  My legs shook as I fought to process the news.  My hands clutching the white envelope I was to give my mother.  I wished it were the sun causing me to sweat so bad.

I had nightmares of debris raining down on me for days afterwards.  I would wake up in a cold sweat, shivering.

The day was July 10th, 1979.

I was six years old.

My stomach was queasy that morning.

For some reason, it was especially bad that day.

I remember thinking how I should have had a couple of slices of toast instead of that second helping of Corn Flakes.

I walked to my locker, grabbed my Social Studies and Science notebooks, and headed to homeroom.  As both subjects were taught by our homeroom teacher, we'd be spending all morning there.

I was rather excited because, as a special treat, we were going to watch the big event (or at least parts of it) on TV.  The big TV cart was set up at the front of the class, the custodian just getting ready to plug it in.

Everyone was standing around talking.  I remember thinking something was wrong, because Mr. Sawiak would have our heads if we weren't sitting in our seats when he walked into class.

My friend Byron saw me enter the room, raised his arms in a victory pose, and exclaimed, "The world's a better place,"  his porcine face turning red with excitement, "Another teacher is dead!"

My heart sank.  I knew what he meant.

My alarm clock didn't go off.

It was nearly 8am, and I instantly regretted the previous night.

I ran to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, and tried my best to rinse the taste of the previous night's martinis from my mouth.

I struggled to remember where last night's companion was... vaguely remembering a taxi, a sloppy kiss goodnight, and a slight twinge of guilt.

I got dressed in a hurry and grabbed my keys.  The last thing I heard before shutting off the TV was news of a terrible accident involving a passenger jet.

I sprinted to my Daytona, popped in a CD, and sped off to work.

Traffic seemed to be on the light side... unusual for this time of year, what with the kids back in school and all.

I pulled into the parking lot and, as I walked to the building, I overheard two of the guys from the coffee roaster next door... something about another plane.

The boss didn't seem to notice that I was fifteen minutes late.  Again.

My warehouse co-hort quickly brought me up to speed.  We spent the day glued to the TV and internet, hungry for more information.

It would prove to be our slowest business day ever.

Our power of recall is a funny thing.

It amuses me how we can all recall "where we were" and "what we were doing" on "that fateful day", usually in great detail... but rarely what we were doing on any other day of our lives.  I could delve into the inner workings of our psyche and possibly tie it into our collective consciousness, but I'm tired and really can't be bothered with research.


Skylab de-orbitted and fell to Earth in July of 1979.  Nobody seemed to know where it would land... in a panic, our daycare called each of our parents to let them know we were being sent home early.  The daycare was at my elementary school a couple of blocks from our house, so I was to walk home.  I'd made the same walk all year, so it wasn't a big deal.

I was terrified...  the likelihood of Skylab falling on my head (let alone Winnipeg) was infinitessimal, but to a six year old with an overactive imagination it was a very real, near certain, possibility.  Why else would they have sent us home?  I barely ate that evening, and it took forever to get me to sleep.

Skylab eventually fell that night... on parts of Australia.  No doubt giving some Aussie kids nightmares as well.

I was in the 7th grade at Ken Seaford Junior High when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch.  We were going to watch the event live on TV, as one of the crew, American teacher Christa McAuliffe, was part of an educational program called Teachers in Space.  Our teacher thought it would be a neat experience, as a tie-in to the unit we were working on in Science class.

Unfortunately, we ended up watching news footage of the disaster instead.  The sense of shock was palpable, and I don't think any of us left that classroom the same.

I remember feeling for years afterwards that the disaster robbed us of a great learning opportunity in the Teachers In Space project.  I mean, how cool would it have been to spend our Junior and High School lives watching lessons taught from SPACE?!

Assuming, of course, the Seven Oaks School Division #10 would have splurged... as it stands, the only other memorable event of my high school years was the Meech Lake Accord.

Today, we mark the 12th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

If it weren't for the terrorist attacks,  I'd probably have forgotten the previous night's date (an unremarkable one night stand).  I'd probably forget buying and assembling a microwave cart I'd bought at Wal-Mart that day, and the stylist probably wouldn't have given me a loving "Take care of yourself, now" after cutting my hair.

I remember a lot of rumours, speculation, and out-and-out bat-shittery being broadcast that day.  I remember the only outrage I felt was when a woman requested the April Wine song Enough is Enough in order to send the terrorists a message...

Because lines like:

You fill me up, until I get enough
Oh girl you fill me up, can't you see that
You're my girl, and enough is enough
Baby, you're my girl, and enough is enough 

are totally in context, and a strong rebuke from a local yokel will result in the terrorists giving pause to reflect.

I remember the conspiracy theories hatching and propagating, the near-complete lack of activity in our business complex, and the traffic snarl on Brookside Blvd as the Mounties fought to keep the gawkers, enticed by the marked increase in air traffic, away from the airport.

I remember watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN as I put together my microwave cart, my internet connection being slowed to a crawl, ordering a pizza that took several hours to arrive, and the horror I felt as I watched, for the first time, footage of people jumping from the Twin Towers to their deaths.

Some flapping their arms wildly as if, by some miracle, they'd be able to fly.  It was then that it all hit me... the human cost of the tragedy.

I'll never forget.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On New Responsibilities

Things have gotten interesting in the five months since pulling the plug on this blog.

Jillian and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our lives.  Astrid Suzanne Wheeler was born on June 28th, and we couldn't be happier.

Astrid will be nine weeks old tomorrow, and she's already ahead of the curve as far as baby milestones go.  She recognized (and responded to) my voice mere minutes after birth, was able to hold her head up on her own at two weeks, became aware of her surroundings at four weeks, can now recognize objects and people on sight, and spoke her first word a couple of days ago.

The word was apple... damn you, Steve Jobs!

And to top it off, she's started teething.  At nine weeks.

And to think we've complained about sleepless nights before...

Asti and daddy, enjoying a nap together

Seriously though, Asti has been a bundle of joy and a source of happiness for all around her.  She has a cute laugh, an infectious smile, and is an attention-grabber.  Old ladies seem to be especially affected by her charm.

Old lady magnet and her Daddy

She's been a lot of work, as most newborns are... perhaps more so given her advanced development.  We have a feeling she'll be walking at six months, speaking full sentences by ten months, and hacking mainframes by 12 months.  However we'll let her develop normally (and at her own pace) without pushing her.

It's a weird feeling, knowing that you're responsible for another human being's life and welfare... especially when you haven't been overly concerned about your own for years.  Plans, projects, and priorities have to be shifted around, changed, or dropped entirely, and decompression time is a rare and valued commodity.

I look at parenthood not so much as a new project or goal, but rather as an investment: we put our time, effort, money, and love into our little girl so that she grows up to be a well-rounded, educated, and well-adjusted individual.  One capable of making her own decisions, carving her own path, and living her own life.

Hopefully, she stays off the Terrorism Watch List until she's at least thirteen.

You Can't Keep A Good Man Down

I just can't leave well enough alone...

... and so, for the fourth time in its history, Conceit and Sociopathy returns from its slumber.

I've found myself wanting a more instantaneous outlet when it came to venting.  My original intent was to blog over at my so-called "professional" site, while saving the more... interesting... stuff for my personal website.  While a good idea in theory, the practice would prove to be a bad idea.  As Dove Grace Design is (eventually) meant to be my professional site, I wanted to keep it relatively clean and controversy-free.  Which meant saving the mean-spirited, questionable, and/or cringe-worthy stuff for Conceited Jerk Dot Com.

I found this arrangement lacking.  Having to censor myself for "professional" reasons proved to be taxing, and having to hand-code HTML (as is my mandate) for my personal site took too much time and did little to foster the spontaneity and off-the-cuff/knee-jerk philosophy of my old blog.

As I chiefly write for an audience of one (myself), I looked into keeping a journal.  Journalling is the new scrapbooking, you know!  I tried keeping a daily journal (on paper) but found carrying it around with me everywhere to be inconvenient.  I tried using DayNotez* on my Palm Treo 650 as my daily journal (along with its Desktop counterpart) and found it a bit more convenient, as my phone is always with me.  However, I found I couldn't write for an extended period of time - the small keyboard wreaked havoc on my 40-year-old fingers.

After a bit of research, I discovered online journal site Evernote.  I tried it (and it's mobile equivalent for Blackberry) for a few weeks, but pretty much gave up after my Blackberry died.

With all options proving unsatisfactory, I made the decision to revive Conceit and Sociopathy.

So... let's get down to it!

*Seriously, if you still use a PalmOS device in this day and age, you'd do well to check out Natara's Smartphone Bundle, still available for purchase, which includes their DayNotez journal, the Comet call logger, and Bonsai outliner.  Each of the three will interact with each other, which makes for a handy combination.  I use these (in conjunction with their Windows Desktop counterparts) in both my personal and professional life.