travel

On travel, of which I do a lot

A sad loss for security

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 

Whisper systems wrote the very useful TextSecure app for Android. It had a great feature of encrypting text messages, a standard communication modality in much of the world and one I rely on often.  I have previously suggested it is a good tool.

The last “update” removed the ability to establish new encrypted chats over SMS and, it appears, the next will remove the function entirely.  For me, this change substantially reduces the utility of the app.

Reading their arguments for doing so, I find myself disagreeing with their justifications.  I understand there was some complexity in establishing encrypted SMS, but frankly initiating a one-time key exchange was about as easy as encrypted communication gets.  That iOS users can’t play along is pretty irrelevant: iOS isn’t exactly the platform for secure communications anyway, you carry iOS devices when you want to impress people with your brand awareness, not get things done. That people occasionally end up with a conversation that is half-encrypted seems annoying but hardly all that problematic.  The person that uninstalled the app will try to send messages in the clear, not the person who is still running it and a partial session.  I can see the annoyance, but not any security leak.

I think the final result is somewhat dangerous.  The first incarnation used SMS as the starting point, and once a secure communications were established, if available, coms moved transparently to the data channel.  If not, it stayed with SMS.  As I work in a place where data service is frequently disabled, this was the most reliable non-voice communication protocol.

Now SMS is unencrypted and data-mode communication is encrypted.  You have to remember which is which and that is dangerous.

If they don’t restore encrypted SMS functionality, I will switch back to the standard SMS app, which is insecure SMS only and so not confusing and use chat secure or xabber for encrypted data communications so the difference is clear.  You’re probably going to run a jabber-based chat tool anyway chat secure’s Tor integration makes it a better choice for data-mode chat while text secure no longer does anything particularly useful over the default app for SMS-mode nor anything particularly unique for data mode.

Posted at 11:59:58 UTC

Category: PrivacySecuritytravel

Lufthansa Business Class

Friday, February 27, 2015 

I’ve occasionally had to buy business on poorly planned Lufthansa intra-Europe flights. While Lufthansa long-haul premium seats are possibly the best in the business, on short-haul/intra-Europe flights, LH business class seats would seam a little mean in most carrier’s coach sections.

There is no difference between coach seats and business class, none at all. In business all middle seats are blocked out, but that isn’t that hard to find in coach. It is efficient to scale business, it involves only moving a rack-mounted divider that is the only obvious differentiation in the classes.

In both the seats are substandard to the amenities one usually expects, especially on a long haul flight:

– little padding on the seats
– cramped seat pitch (worse than econ +)
– typical economy seat width
– no in seat power (not even a usb port)
– no personalized IFE

Such limitations would be cheap in economy, but in business they are, perhaps we should say “disappointing.” Neither the economy nor the business class zone is going to leave the passenger well-rested (IST-FRA is a long enough flight that rest matters); such a flight is a grim endurance test for everyone. But it is very egalitarian in shared suffering, though not particularly egalitarian in pricing.  And were LH business not priced competitively with other carrier’s business, the disparity in services wouldn’t seem quite so jarring.

LH is, of course, efficient and well organized, but every other airline I’ve flown that has a business class has far, far better business class, even those that can’t really manage the basics.

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Posted at 17:01:05 UTC

Category: planestravel

IDEX 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 

My first trip to IDEX was a lot of fun.  An excellent opportunity to see the latest hardware and meet some smart and very interesting people.

Ready to fly in the UAE.Cultures meet at IDEX Fire Dragons Ready to go 4-wheelin' for varmits  shaped charge warhead Tanks for the memories! Sometimes you really need 155mm 30kw laser weapon.  yikes.Swiss 35mm Anti Aircraft autocannon.  17 rounds per second, amazing tracking speed. Look!  It's wall-e coming for a visit! A very reasonable commuter vehicle, given Dubai traffic. Some programmable fireworks Robocop meets automated mortar delivery

Posted at 00:39:48 UTC

Category: technologytravel

Basra Snow Storm

Sunday, February 8, 2015 

I was feeling a little left out, reading posts by people digging out of snow storms and here I am in Basra where it gets down to 10C at night sometimes and usually hits the mid 20’s during the day.  Rough.  But the weather here came through with our own sort of snow storm.

 

Blizzard Brown-out conditions

 
Starting to look like a brown-out!

 

 

Snow covered yard furniture!

 

Obligatory shot of the yard furniture getting covered.

 

I've got snow on my head!

 

Kitty’s head is starting to show some accumulation.

 

Can't see more than a few hundred meters with this snow!

 

With all this blowing through you can barely see a few hundred meters!

 

starting to accumulate!

 

It’s really starting to accumulate. Where’s the snow blower?

 

Takes special cleaning to get that snow off.

 

It takes some special cleaning after playing out in it.

Posted at 06:20:38 UTC

Category: catsphotoplacestravelweather

Cat Watch

Monday, February 2, 2015 

Cat Watch
Cat_Watch
The twins resting after a busy day.

 

The Twins

Posted at 17:48:24 UTC

Category: catsphototravel

Family Feud Basra Style

Saturday, December 13, 2014 

Gunfire is pretty common here, perhaps even more common than in Oakland though usually for the same reasons: celebrating holidays, sports victories, weddings, that sort of stuff.  It is kind of fun to listen to and watch tracers and stuff, but usually the villa is also celebrating in an obvious way; when you hear gunfire you also hear cheers, at least at night.

This evening the house was quiet, but the gunfire sure wasn’t.  The guys tell me it was a tribal feud in the neighborhood, quite close from the sound of it.  This is a low-fi recording from my phone.

Posted at 17:13:13 UTC

Category: Audioplacestravel

Power Adventures In Iraq

Friday, December 12, 2014 

Plugging things in here is always an adventure. Most of the outlets are the horrible giant British style so they have interlocked grounds, but most appliances are European style, so plugging things in means either using something to jam open the ground interlock, breaking the interlock tabs with force, or dispensing with the plug entirely and just stuffing bare wires in the holes.

When using the latter method, it turns out the British plugs are actually kind of useful because toggling the ground tab with a screwdriver uses the interlocks to bind the wires in place.  You just hope the ground pin is wired to ground, not hot.  Usually it just isn’t wired to anything.

Most appliances and power strips here come from China and are the sort of manufacture China was famous in the US for about 30 years ago: taking something out of the package usually breaks it.  The wires inside are so thin it is amazing they survive and grounds are never, ever actually connected.  I have cables that on the inside have a ground insulator but no ground conductor inside the insulator.  Awesome!

But we just rewired the new villa and even though the ground isn’t wired (of course), the outlets are new and seem like they’re decent quality.  And we even got British style plugs to dispense with the highly problematic and very melt-prone plug adapters.  All seemed good until….

Uh oh.  Maybe it just needed to create a little vent….

outlet_going

 

Nope.  Melt down.  Good thing these have a built-in fuse…  (which is still fine, though encrusted in melted plastic).

outlet_gone

Posted at 15:27:24 UTC

Category: phototechnologytravel

Cactus Farmer

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 

A few years back, when I was in 3rd or 4th Grade, my brother and I went to visit David and Jesse Lenat at their Cactus Farm. While we were exploring the green houses, their dad, Richard, gave us each a cactus to take home.

Mine lived in a small pot near the window through the rest of grade school and high school and then my mom cared for it through college. It grew into a little cluster of pencil thin green, spiky pads over the years.

After I graduated, moved to California, and got an apartment in SF; I was home for Christmas one year and took one of the pads wrapped in tissue to California. It grew well there and now produces big, bright yellow flowers every year.

This Christmas, I stuffed two tiny buds into glass bottles and brought them to Iraq and planted in the yard with one of the cat’s help (paw in the background).

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Posted at 03:01:17 UTC

Category: catsGeopostphotoplaces

Iraq

Friday, November 1, 2013 

destroyed tank.jpg
Posted at 12:51:24 UTC

Category: photoplacestravel

A Day Out And About In Basra

Sunday, March 10, 2013 

A day spent out reviewing alternate sites where unexpected underground obstructions impact construction means a chance to make new friends.

Iraqi Guards.jpg
Two of the excellent officers assigned to our detail get us through traffic and keep us safe.

New Friends.jpg

These days the attention we attract is welcome and fun.

Posted at 08:11:06 UTC

Category: placestravel