Category Archives: Ze Rest of Ze Ztuffm

Really Bad Record Reviews

I’ve worked on a few lately, had lots of fun. Here’s a link to one of four I did in the last 3 days: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M8BN7FNT0A

My inspiration came from Rolling Stone record reviews where it was clear that the reviewer either had an axe to grind, wanted to review a different record, or hadn’t bothered to listen to the album at all.

As it turns out, it is very easy to put out a bad review. When one disposes of the entire listening process, all that’s left is the cover and the track list, and those can get knocked out in a matter of minutes.

For me, the trick is in making a connection back to Pink Floyd that reveals my complete ignorance of the band I’m being all pretentious and elitist about. Sometimes I can, and that’s the delivery on the musical joke.

It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More

When I was in Boy Scouts, I learned a song that has stuck with me for the rest of my years thus far. It’s called “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More”, and it’s a rousing, irreverent tune that’s a load of fun to sing. The chorus is simple:

It ain’t gonna rain no more no more
It ain’t gonna rain no more
How in the heck can I wash my neck
If it ain’t gonna rain no more

Since I’m a Cubmaster once more, I thought I’d collect the verses I liked best and compose some ones of my own. Here goes:

Bullfrog sitting on a lily pad
He looked up at the sky
The lily pad broke and the frog fell in
He got water all in his eye

Skeeter he fly high
And skeeter he fly low
Skeeter he land on my arm
(smack your arm) He ain’t gonna fly no mo’!

Peanut sitting on the railroad track
Its heart was all a-flutter
Around the bend came Number four
Toot! Toot! Peanut butter

Noah built himself an ark
Got animals two by two
And pretty soon he had himself
The world’s first floating zoo

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
If he held a saw in his little paw
A ton of wood he could

The Grand Old Duke of York
He had ten thousand mens
But when he counted chickens
He had ten thousand hens

Man lived by the sewer
And by the sewer he died
They couldn’t call it murder
So they called it sewercide

The mice are very quiet
As they skitter all about
But if you ask, “Who wants some cheese?”
Then you’ll hear them shout

A cow walked on the railroad track
The train was coming fast.
The train got off the railroad track
To let the cow go past

I found myself a new pet dog
A strangely-shaped old fella
He’s wide and flat, his tail won’t bend
He makes a fine umbrella

A pig and a hen went for a walk
Just to stretch their legs,
A motorcar came round the bend,
Toot! Toot! Ham and eggs.

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you anyhow
I’d rather see than be one.

 

Don’t Demonize

So I see this image from “We Love Donald J. Trump” on a friend’s page… It’s a mass of negative generalizations about the Democrat party and positive generalizations about the Republican party. I’m not going to post my response on my friend’s page because I’m going to post it here, where I’m free to have here what I want to have here.
 
It’s highly generalized, which makes it inaccurate. The “lower taxes” item considered in the Republican’s favor, for example, means more deficit spending, which is essentially taxing your children so you can party today. The GOP-associated “Small government” is more words than actual action. The reality is that a true small government would also mean significant dismantling of the military along with medicare and medicaid. I don’t know of many politicians of either party willing to reduce those things to the point where we would have a true pre-1900 sort of small government.
 
At the same time, I don’t know anyone that’s pro-abortion, which is used to label the Democrats. There are people who support allowing the freedom of choice, so it’s just as easy to say that Republicans are anti-freedom, if we use the same inaccurate generalization.
 
Wanting to make sure that police work is done accurately, fairly, and with respect to our Constitutional rights doesn’t make a person anti-police (which is pinned on the Democrats), and wanting immigration reform doesn’t make a person anti-ICE (also pinned on Democrats), or for open borders and/or illegal immigration (yes, also used to tag the Dems). Going with inaccurate generalizations would paint all Republicans as closet Nazis, just waiting for a police state and concentration camps. That’s as ludicrous as some of the generalizations being made here.
 
Point being that, yes, there are differences between the major political parties after several decades of them being pretty much the same. But a person is not a demon simply for making a conscientious choice to support one party or another. Language that demonizes the opposition only makes it easier for the group doing the demonizing to itself become more extreme in its views.

How Did the Jews Survive Hellenism?

I’m taking a course in Jewish History. It’s not for credit, but for learning. It is offered by Dr. Henry Abramson of Touro College, online, and for free. The course itself deals with the survival of the Jews as a people. As I went through one of the readings for the first lesson of the course, the book of 2 Maccabees, I came across the account of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes in that book. Wanting to check some details (did he *really* indicate a desire to convert to Judaism?), I read that the violent persecution against the Jews under the Seleucids was only in Judea and Samaria. Jews in the Diaspora – as well as Jews under other Diodachi rulers – were not subject to this violence, at least not on this level. Nevertheless, they *were* subjected to the Hellenistic influences of the conquerors. Inside of that frame, I want to answer this question.

All through time, conquerors have imposed their cultural stamp on the conquered to the point where the cultures of the conquered either vanish, become invisible, or leave but a few words, sayings, and dinner entrees behind. Consider the people of the Indus Valley civilizations: we cannot interpret their writings and it does not seem anything of what they once had as a culture has remained in the Indian subcontinent. We have to strain our historical eyes to see what is left of Assyria, Babylon, and Sumeria. And yet, in spite of the massive power of Hellenism, we can look around today and see that Judaism has indeed survived. So, how did it make it through the gauntlet of Hellenism?

On the surface, it seems as though it took the force of arms to sustain Judaism, but as noted above, that was only the case in Judea and Samaria. In places such as Alexandria, the question was much more fundamental: Abandon the law and the covenants or remain true to them?

In this sense, although Philo Judaeus has a heavy infusion of Hellenic philosophy in his writings, at their core they are still Jewish because they hold true to the covenants and the law. He may be saying things that seemed unusual to the scholars both of his day and of later periods, but he’s still working from a world view that prizes the Jewish law and religion. He does not replace it with Hellenism, as the antagonists in Maccabees do. He *reconciles* it with Hellenism.

But even in that reconciliation, there is a danger. Does the philosophical reconciliation introduce elements of culture and thought that undermine or alter the core narrative of the culture in question? In the case of Christianity, the prophetic Christianity of the 1st Century CE (believe me because I was a witness to the miracle) was replaced with Augustine’s philosophic Christianity of the early 5th Century CE (believe because I am using Platonic philosophy to prove it). So, the question now becomes one of whether men like Philo changed the fundamental reason to practice the Jewish faith, namely, that one is descended from a person who made a covenant with the Almighty, and is part of a people who received a law from the Almighty.

Set aside things such as desires or even needs to translate scriptures into Greek or to have Greek signage within the temple. Those things still imply a need to observe the law. Perhaps the greatest challenge to Judaism was when men like Saul of Tarsus were able to leverage general Greek interest in mystery religions with a declaration that one need not undergo convert circumcision to enter into fellowship with a Christian congregation. These congregations of Gentiles were overwhelmingly Greeks or Hellenized populations. When we see a lack of Hellenized Jewish congregations in the world, it may be because those populations themselves were absorbed into the Christian church of the Romans, itself highly Hellenized as a result of Saul/Paul, Augustine, and other early Christian leaders.

Given how Christian rulers in Europe have constantly troubled the Jews living in their borders, one can see that if the Christians themselves are seen as the product of Hellenized Jews, the conflict of the Maccabees is a conflict of today.

Through it all, the Jews have to ask the question of survival. Maybe they have to ask if they should fight or fly, but they have to first ask the question if there is anything worth fighting or fleeing over. If not, why bother? Both Judah Maccabee and Philo of Alexandria held that there was a reason to retain the law and covenants they had been given in their youth. Both determined that, yes, there was a reason to not drop these things and go with the times. To these people and their devout associates and followers, the covenant of Abraham and the law of Moses were worth taking a stand for. Even if Hellenism were accommodated, it was not allowed to replace these core concepts. The true path to survival in the Greek world lay not in force of arms, but in scholarship and creativity. The Jewish people had to know who they were before they could struggle to retain that identity.

The definition of identity is possible only in the face of the *other*, the Greek, the Babylonian, the Egyptian, and so on. One can start to define what one is only when one can point to what one is *not*. The child would not ask a parent why they do not do as the others do if there are no others, and merely do as he or she is told, more or less. (This should not devolve into a discussion about rebellious teenagers, as they are a completely separate challenge to survival…) But when there are others who do this and that which one does not do, the questions will arise from the mouths of children and it is up to the parents to turn their hearts towards their children, that the children might turn their hearts towards their parents and honor the ancient laws and covenants.

Do I Miss Teaching?

It’s been about 5 years since I decided to end my career as a teacher and return to IT. People still ask me from time to time if I miss teaching. The short answer is no, but the long answer is yes.

For the short answer, I love not just my current job, but my current career. Once I had started back in IT, not one day did I wake up and desire to return to the classroom that I had left. I had dreams about teaching, but they involved either dull routine that I was glad to have left behind, or they were about packing up and leaving. Both gave me a sense of closure, that I was done with the profession.

Which leads to the long answer, the “yes”. Truth is, I was missing the classroom my whole last year of teaching. The work I had been able to do, both in the 90s as well as the 00s, that was no more by 2012-2013. School administrations no longer trusted a teacher’s ability to exercise professional discretion in preparing and delivering coursework. When I was doing IT work in the late 90s, I often yearned for the classroom. I had the same yearning during my last year of teaching.

Being forced to buy into the culture of testing that now exists meant selling out on my hopes of continuing to be the kind of teacher that could be flexible enough in the classroom to find a way to make a critical difference in people’s lives. I know I couldn’t impact everyone and that I could come off as a pompous ass to a lot of people… but I also knew that I had a much bigger audience that liked what I did and, within those audiences, I could make connections that would help guide lives.

All that was evaporating before my eyes as I saw mid-level administrators, living in fear of budget cuts that would axe their positions in a heartbeat, spread a culture of fear. Their jobs were safe if they could convince top administrators that their jobs were necessary to maintain the almighty test scores. This was happening not just in my district, but pretty much every urban and suburban district with 2 or more high schools.

So yes, while I miss teaching, I also know that what I once had is gone. It’s not coming back. I can think about the good times, but I have to move forward. I am fortunate and grateful that I have been able to return to IT. I’m working with people that trust my professional discretion, and that makes all the difference.

The Earth Wrapped Up As a Scroll

What is meant by the expression, found in the Bible and elsewhere, about “the Earth wrapped up as a scroll”? Several things, all at the same time, because of the precision of God’s language.
1. When one finishes reading a scroll, one wraps it back up before returning it to the shelf upon which it is stored. The Earth, at the end of its time, will be prepared to return to where it once was – wrapped as a scroll.
2. In addition to the simile’s implication of return, there is also the implication of finality. There is a time, after which, we do not continue to experience time as such, but return to where God is: and where God is, there is no time.
3. Physics. Particularly those of a higher-dimensional order. Just as we can take a line of string, let that represent one dimension, we can bend it through a second for it to meet itself as a circle. Just as we can take a sheet of paper, let that represent two dimensions, we can bend it through a third for it to meet itself as a tube.
Given that God exists in a realm where time is not a relentless crumbler of mountains, such as we see it, but a direction that goes this way and that, then it stands to reason that the realm of God has sufficient dimensions necessary to behold the whole of creation as one.
Therefore, it stands to reason that with those sufficient dimensions, they would include those sufficient to bend the earth so that it meets itself in a higher-dimensional construct our language has not words to describe, but God’s language would, and precise ones, at that.
Speculation – the “wrapping together” would be, perhaps, a similar preparation as what was required for Moses, Abraham, and others to behold God? That all things must be transfigured in order to return to God and that, without a pure soul to match the pure body, we endure pain and discomfort in God’s presence, so much so that it would be best described as a burning lake of fire, or some other nigh-unthinkable torture to our minds?
Yet, such tortures are scripturally described solely as natural phenomena. There is no mention of God or any servant of God, or even Satan or his followers, meting out such punishments. These phenomena arise naturally, out of conditions brought about via a dichotomy of a pure body housing an impure spirit. The only cure for which is an appropriate distance from God.

How Musicians Speak to the Press

I’m wondering how much stuff any person in a band says is due to contractual obligations to promote current work. How much of slagging previous work is considered necessary and appropriate to build up one’s current product?

ORIGINAL BAND: “Everything we’re doing now is bold and imaginative, we’re really like nothing else.”

PROMINENT TALENT GOES SOLO: “It was all rehashing of old blues numbers in Original Band, I got tired of going nowhere musically. I’m so glad that I can truly express myself on my solo albums.”

THE REUNION: “What I did as a solo artist, I had to do, had to get it out of my system. Just a flight of fancy. It’s so great to be making magic again with Original Band, the stuff we’re making now is as great as the old stuff.”

AFTER A DISPUTE OVER PERCENTAGES: “I have left Original Band, effective immediately. Please consult the legal firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe for further comment.”

JOINS ANOTHER BAND: “The Original Band reunion was a disaster. Of course, you read about my departure in the press, and I’ll give you the REAL story after I mention how awesome and liberating it is to be with Another Band. These guys are amazing, this is the best work I’ve done.”

SECOND REUNION OF ORIGINAL BAND: “It’s like I never left home. This is the only real music I’ve ever done, my work with Original Band. Our new album will not disappoint!”

NEW ALBUM DISAPPOINTS, DOES ANOTHER SOLO ALBUM: “Most of the reason behind the second reunion was money. I wanted to make music, they just wanted the money. Such a pity. But I’m glad I can fly free again.”

GETS BACK WITH ANOTHER BAND: “We’re not doing the songs recorded by the guy I replaced. They’re not my music and, frankly, I don’t consider them to be truly Another Band. When I’m with Another Band, then, yes, you can be sure it’s really Another Band.”

PARTIAL REUNION OF ORIGINAL BAND: “Me and the guitar player, we were always the core of Original Band. We don’t need the other guys to play amazing stuff.”

FULL REUNION OF ORIGINAL BAND: “If it’s not all four of us together, it’s simply just not Original Band, full stop. Don’t let anyone say otherwise.”

DRUMMER OF ORIGINAL BAND DIES IN FREAK GARDENING ACCIDENT: “We will miss him dearly, but we will also carry on. Original Band will rise from the ashes and continue forth to newer, better triumphs.”

SLIGHT ISSUE REGARDING DISTRIBUTION OF MERCHANDISING PROFITS: “I’m glad to be done with those money-grubbers and, frankly, they can all go to hell, where they can join up with their ex-drummer.”

ISSUE IS RESOLVED, WORLD TOUR RESUMES: “Me and my mates are inseperable! God bless them all, and I wish our ex-drummer were here instead of ‘up there’, where I know he’s drumming with Hendrix.”

OFFERED MORE MONEY TO TOUR WITH ANOTHER BAND: “My heart has always been with Another Band. Original Band, sure I had some laughs with them. But Another Band is where I’ve always felt like I was freest to explore, where we could play like no other band in the world.”

And so on, and so on, and so on…

Writing InfoSec Fiction

When I first started serious creative writing efforts back in 1997, I had no idea that, 20 years later, I’d be writing about how to write InfoSec fiction. Not only did I not even know how to write fiction, period, InfoSec was pretty much a matter of having an antivirus program and locking the doors to the server rooms. And firewalls, I remember we had just started to have firewalls back then.

Well, enough reminiscing and pondering about how I found myself to be where I am now. I have a purpose, best I get to it.

First off, let’s cover how to write well. It’s not all that difficult. Here are the rules of good writing, as they were taught to me by good writers.

1. Show, don’t tell.

2. Nouns and verbs always beat adjectives and adverbs.

3. Some things are better left to the reader’s imagination.

4. Dialogue should sound like dialogue.

5. Get rid of as many “to be” verbs as you can.

1. Show, don’t tell… that’s the toughest one of all, because we want to explain our thoughts in great detail. Well, that’s technical writing, not fiction writing. How many stories, especially science fiction stories, have gotten bogged down because the characters start explaining all. the. things. The readers will figure out how stuff works as it gets used, don’t worry. Saying “The zapotron ray carved a massive opening into the reactor core, yet none of the radioactivity leaked out” is preferable to the characters spending multiple paragraphs about zapotron technology and why it would be preferable in this situation as compared to, say, an unobtanium battering ram.

In that above example, did I myself go into those technologies? I did not. And yet, each reader now has an idea about them. Show, don’t tell. If I do any more here, I’m telling, not showing, and I’m not about to slide into hypocrisy like that.

2. Nouns and verbs… Rushing beats running quickly. The giant beats the really tall and really big guy. If you have to use an adjective or adverb, make sure it’s not with a plain noun or verb. The exception to this would be in dialogue, where if a person is likely to violate good rules of writing in his or her speech, then it’s good writing to have the character talk that way.

3. Leaving things to the imagination… what’s more scary, the huge hairy spider looming over your right shoulder or… that… THING! AAAAAHH! IT’S COMING FOR YOU! RUN! RUN TOWARDS THE SPIDER!

See what I did there? Consider this an extension of “show, don’t tell.” As I tried to make something scarier than the gigantic spider, I conjured up a notion of something so awful and immediately threatening that your best hope was to run towards the very thing I suggested was fearsome at the beginning of the comparison. And now, by telling all about how I did that trick, I took all the fun out of it. Show, don’t tell, that’s the moral, here. That, and run towards the spider if you’re in that situation, for God’s sake.

Imagination is best when you want to create feeling and mood in your reader. Sometimes, it means ending a story before they want it to end, but, hey, that’s life and good writing.

4. Dialogue… there’s external dialogue. Like my English teacher once said, “When other characters speak, they can reveal so much more with carefully-chosen words, which you want on your side when you fight against Godless Commies.”

Then there’s internal dialogue. One option is to just explain things, but in a dialogue-y way, where you bend words and stuff like that. Stuff that drove my ultra-right English teacher up the wall. Or you can italicize. How do I reconcile my relationship to my English teacher? I mean, she was brilliant, taught me all I needed to know about grammar and writing… but that shrine dedicated to Mussolini in the back of the room? Really? Mrs. Paganini was a complicated person, that was for certain…

Above all, dialogue needs to sound like people talking. Stylistically, if a new character speaks, start a new paragraph. Try to not have a character say too much in one go, it can lose readers.

“You think those ideas work all the time?” a reader asked.

“They’ve served me well,” I said.

“How do I know this isn’t more of Mrs. Paganini’s neo-fascist propaganda?”

I thought a moment. “I guess you can tell it’s not that because one, I’m not wearing a paramilitary uniform, and, two, not once have I spoken about the need to invade either Ethiopia or Albania.”

My reader nodded, satisfied in my answer.

5. Getting rid of “to be” verbs. Remember up in 2, where I talked about nouns and adjectives, how I said “beats” instead of “is better than”? Getting rid of is, are, will be, was, all those “to be” verbs will force you to use actual action words, and that moves the story forward in an interesting way.

***

OK, so those are the rules of good writing. I’d also recommend reading Socrates’ “Poetics” for some tips. It’s a short piece and well worth your time. It’ll also explain why that huge race sequence in “The Phantom Menace” was such a beat-down… put effects ahead of plot and character…

I’d also recommend reading things that help the InfoSec mindset. Look to Eastern Europe for fiction authors and look to trade journals for jumping-off points for stories.

My reading list will include films, but since I use subtitles, I’m still reading them, aren’t I?

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – Roadside Picnic; Stanislav Lem – Everything he wrote, go for Cyberiad, Solaris, and Memoirs Found in a Bathtub; P.D. Ouspensky – The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin; Vladimir Savchenko – Self-discovery

For the films, go to the Mosfilm YouTube channel and watch Solaris, Stalker, Kin Dza Dza – those are the intro to Soviet sci-fi, which is much more cerebral and psychological than US sci-fi, which tends to resolve issues through violence and/or application of brute physics.

While you’re on Mosfilm, consider also Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Grozny), Ivan Vasilievich Changes Careers, and White Tiger (Belyy Tigr). The first is a pair of films that was Game of Thrones stuff decades before HBO, the second is a wild time-travel romp, the third is about a man who can speak with tanks in WW2.

Also consider the Czech film, “Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea”. Why? It’s about things going wrong, and that’s what security is all about.

Once you’re paranoid and twisted in your thinking, you’ll read trade journals and start to get ideas about how things go wrong. You’ll read marketing materials from vendors that promise the moon and see holes in their logic that may deliver a shattered earth instead of a new world. You’ll see reports on outages and mentally explore what’s not reported, how much worse it could be.

Then, you’ll want to write that story.

***

We’ve gone from fiction writing to science fiction writing (briefly) and now we’re ready to deal specifically with InfoSec fiction writing. There are no rules for it yet, because as far as I know, there’s only a handful of people trying to write it, and I’m one of them. So I’ll go into my philosophy, and I’ll try to show instead of tell as much as possible.

The short story is ideal for InfoSec fiction. The short story in sci-fi takes a small concept, a gimmick, and toys around with it. The gimmick is the center of the story, so it won’t last very long at all. It’s not a character, so it shouldn’t be pushed all that far. There will be people and things reacting to, planning to use, and being affected by the gimmick, but the gimmick is the center of attention.

Consider a story about a guy using Internet-enabled footwear that’s also equipped with a flash drive and a toner-like device that can pick up signals from network cables. Fun will be had in the story, but it’s over as soon as he visits the coffee shop and uploads his stolen data to the highest bidder. Maybe it’s over now, but that’s how it goes with the gimmick. It’s a short story, but a merry one.

Writing a longer story runs the risk of getting preachy. If your characters are starting to launch into long dialogues explaining best practices, you are writing an editorial at best and a user manual at worst. If your tale has legs and it’s going to travel into the land of 10-40K words, you’re into novella country, and that demands a different focus for your writing.

Novellas have to be character-centered. This means the focus is not on the technology, but on a person using/affected by the technology. The exposition is about the character in relation to that technology, and the temptation to get preachy will try to overpower you. Resist. Stay with that character and his or her moral journey, as he or she struggles with A Big Decision. For it to be InfoSec related, the Big Decision needs to be related to that technology. A plot in which a jilted lover considers killing his former love becomes an InfoSec plot when he ponders the killing by way of a drone strike, homed in on the former love’s cell phone location… and then, to his horror, he realizes the drone strike took out an innocent because the former lover dropped the phone in the parking lot and the innocent picked it up to go return it to the nearby store’s lost and found. The actual strike and realization would be the climax of the story, unless we want this to be a psychological tale about the killer being caught and being sentenced to work out his problems with an AI counselor… that may have a few flaws in its code…

Novels are big things. If you’ve got the nerve to write an InfoSec novel, good luck with that. If you can keep from preaching and make it all about a group of characters dealing with a world changed by a technology, you’ve got a sci-fi novel. To make it InfoSec, those characters deal with a world changed by the *flaws* in a technology.

That’s the biggest part of InfoSec writing, in my view. We confront the promise of better living through technology and poke at the weaknesses in that premise. We ask what can possibly go wrong and then unleash that vulnerability on our characters. Sometimes, our characters are resilient and deal with the problem. In such cases, I’d recommend no neat and tidy happy ending. The characters dealt with the problem, but now they live in a patched world, and they have to be on their guard just in case the patch introduced a new vulnerability.

An InfoSec writer also has to face a decision whether or not the story will be hard science or more Hollywood in its portrayal of technology. My style leans mostly towards hard science. I want things to be highly accurate. My characters will never ping 10.800.1.1. My characters will never have a program with a GUI that looks like it was designed by a special effects company. My characters plow through huge logfiles, they run Wireshark and pore over the captures, and they get mandatory reboots of their OS at the worst possible times.

But, there are times where I want to go Hollywood. In these stories, I create a fantasyland where all is well, all is good, there is better living through technology for all… except, hey, what’s this little red button do? Ah, it reveals that the makers of this heaven were really humans and there are devils from our own day and age in those futuristic details! Here we are in the year 2877, but the world comes crashing down because the code is backward-compatible to run a DOS 5.0 program… in so doing, I’m able to point out the folly of assuming backward-compatible code is secure, but *without getting preachy*.

I just realized I was getting preachy about not getting preachy, so maybe I should leave the rest to your imaginations and end my essay here.

Or should I say “show, don’t tell” one more time? Where is Clippy to help me finish writing a story when I need him the most?