blarg?

I spent most of today with a huge latex gash on my forehead and a layer of death-grey makeup on my face, lurching around the front yard of some random house out in the suburbs, so if you saw a guy in a nightgown and boxers lurching about in your neighborhood with a major head injury, that may well have been me. When the final product is assembled and shown to the public, I will apparently appear in the credits as “Zombie #1″.

Pictures are on the way.

Brains!

Marcus Ranum, inventor of the proxy firewall and author of a short paper on network security called “Low-Carb Security” which is near to my heart, has recently written a document called “The Six Dumbest Ideas In Computer Security”. They are:

  1. Default Permit

  2. Enumerating Badness
  3. Penetrate And Patch
  4. Hacking Is Cool
  5. Educating Users, and
  6. Action Is Better Than Inaction

I would like to work where Marcus Ranum works, where technology is designed with security in mind and chosen purely on technical merit, and your employer never insists on being able to install whatever they like, whenever they like, because it’s their computer.

I note, under these conditions, that when you are trying to delicately explain to your boss’s boss why you don’t think they should be permitted to install Gator or Bonzi Buddy or god knows what else then you are not only educating a user, but really really hoping that it takes.

I also note that all the designing-for-security in the world doesn’t absolve you from testing. It might, though, affect that “time to market” metric which I have on good authority is important. And I’ve got to say, even though you’ve basically chosen to strap a bomb to your chest, choosing default-permit does get a whole lot of niggling short-term problems off your desk, and if it’s All About The Short Term where you’re working, that’s not a flaw that good security can fix.

Marcus writes:

“When I was CEO of a small computer security start-up we didn’t have a Windows system administrator. All of the employees who wanted to run Windows had to know how to install it and manage it themselves, or they didn’t get hired in the first place.”

and all I can think to say is “it must be nice.” It must be nice to never have to send or read a .doc file. It must be nice to be able to find secretarial staff, at secretarial-staff salaries, who know how to lock down Windows boxes. It must be nice to have staff who all know not to execute the passworded, zipped file that makes it past your mail filters. It must be super-nice to not have any naively-written legacy code lying around, that can’t be removed or replaced without time or cost that you can’t, at this moment, afford.

It’s nice to be one of those people who know how the technology works, how to secure it, what’s good tech and what’s bad tech and so on. But you know what? The people in that category aren’t just outnumbered by people who don’t understand the tech; they’re outnumbered by the people who think they understand it, and don’t.

And just because the People Who Know are so badly outnumbered, you often find that those other people got to whereever you are first, and the reason that you got hired is because now it’s go time, and your employer needs things that go. Which means, at least in my experience, that you’re going have to take action, and graft a bunch of ugly, hackish crap overtop of their existing systems to Make Them Work Now, because that’s what they’re paying you to do.

On the second day of one of my first admin jobs, the terminal server went crazy and started refusing connections at a time when my new boss and co-workers were nowhere to be found. The business I was working for was basically dead in the water until this problem got fixed, and I didn’t even know where the server room was. Once I’d found the room and, lacking passwords and keeping my fingers crossed, hard-reset the offending box, the problem was temporarily solved. Some difficult phone calls some log-chart watching and tooth-gnashing later, I figured out that that the server was holding onto dead sessions, and our users were chewing through our 50-user-max licenses every morning when they restarted their thin clients.

So what do I do at that point? If I knew enough, and had enough time, and NT Terminal Server was open source, I could fix the code. Or, if I had more say in the purchasing decisions and the company wasn’t just barely in the red, I could advocate a switch to something else. And, if I had a pony, I could ride to work on it! But I don’t have any of those things, so the answer is: deal. So once I got an admin password to the offending server, I scheduled a reboot every morning at 3:00 A.M. Pretty, no! But that problem never came back, and I’m told that business’ terminal servers still works like that today long after I’ve moved on.

If you’re in my line of work, the reason you’re in it is probably because making things work is cool. I think Ranum is right, insofar as yes, the world should indeed be like that. That’s entirely correct, and doesn’t change the sad fact that the world is not like that at all, and the number of times you will get to start projects with a blank slate, an arbitrary budget and exclusively brilliant colleagues is vanishingly small. For most of us, never.

So I found this recipe for a double-chocolate layer cake, and embellished it by putting blueberry jam between the two slabs and adding most of a cup of Bailey’s to the icing. And you know what? It was great. Furthermore, I’m the man.

But I also have some great friends.

That was fun. The only real rowdiness happened when Catherine decided she was going to go all crazy and trash the place, but she’s about two feet tall, and there’s a limited amount of going all crazy and trashing the place you can do at that height before you get corralled.

I had a great time, Arlene had a great time, and thanks to everyone who made it. You people rock.

Provided without comment, a transcript of a conversation that took place here in the Blarg Mountain Stronghold just moments ago.

“Gotta run.”

“Where are you going?”

“To buy cake parts.”

“Not to buy cake?”

“No, I thought you wanted me to bake a cake.”

“I do, but I would also like to eat cake.”

“…”

“Is there going to be a backup cake?”

It’s Arlene’s birthday this weekend, and we haven’t really had a housewarming for our new place yet, and so the place is so cold, so very, cold…

We’re doing that this Friday evening. It’s our new place, in its Super Double Secret Location, which some of you will recognize as being directly across the road from my parents’ place, which is in turn a fact that most of you will recognize as being wierd and creepy, but hey, it’s a nice neighborhood. Superman had his Fortress Of Solitude and me, I get a Bunker Of Help Son The Internets Aren’t Working Again Get Over Here. It’s a nice neighborhood, I say to myself over and over again while I’m curled up in a corner of the basement rocking back and forth. Plus, the rent’s not bad! Did I mention wierd and creepy?

In the spirit of things not at all creepy but hopefully the fun kind of wierd, we’re inviting people over to our Fly New Crib™ for birthdayish things like pizza and cake, around sevenish. I’m hoping that we can rope some people into some games of the board and video variety afterwards, ’cause we have an impressive quantity of available real estate here that we’re rattling around in. If you’re coming, let me know!

I have just made up a batch of the garlic paste that shawarma places slap a dollop of on your plate, and it turns out that making it is about as hard as opening a door, and if you make it yourself, so sharp that it will sting your tongue.

It is so, so good.

I have made myself two sandwiches just now as a snack, and I’m going to have two more for dinner when Arlene gets home, and I am rank with garlic right now. I can feel it sweating out of my eyes. Arlene is going to make me sleep in the basement tonight, and then she is going to come downstairs at three o’clock in the morning, douse me in mouthwash and make me sleep in the yard.

So good.

When I set my small brain, tiny forelimbs and monstrous slavering maw to it, I can produce a truly outstanding sandwich. Because I am a giver, and I love to give, I will now tell you how I produce my outstanding sandwiches. Look on my chicken sandwich, ye mighty, and salivate profusely!

See what I just did there? I portrayed myself as Ozymandias, the tyrannosaur sandwich samaritan. That’s what I provide here, folks; the depleted uranium of textual imagery, both startlingly dense and utterly useless in any practical context. Go ahead, question my motives; see if anything rational or even intelligible comes out. I dare you.

So, yeah, you slice up some tomato and onion, some old cheddar, mince up some ginger and garlic and, twelve hours in the past, marinate a chicken thigh or three in a little teriyaki and soy sauce. Chop that chicken up, then, and throw it back in the marinade.

Then, on a mid to high heat, throw the onions and garlic into a fry pan with some butter and, important, salt. Sautee ’til the onions soften up and the garlic turns a nice not-burned-yet brown. Scoop it all into a bowl, and set aside.

Next, throw the chicken, marinade and all, into that fry pan and crank the heat up. The sauce will boil down to a very nice glaze on the chicken, and when that boiling-down part’s almost done, throw the ginger in there. Do not stir, or simply “spatula” the chicken – instead, shift it around with a quick flip of the wrist; this will facilitate your feeling like an actual chef! Remember that everything that goes up in the air must also land back in the pan. A key point, that.

When slightly crispy, and not burned, put all of these things you have made onto a fresh bread of your choosing, with a little bit of mayonnaise and some dijon. Not, I think, with pedestrian yellow french’s mustard or appalling ketchup, because we are not a bunch of filthy, miserable savages scrounging for condiments on the dimly-lit fringes of a dying civilization here. Toasting the bread? You decide.

It’s a little more work than a PBJ but I promise you it’s totally worth it.

Exhibit 1:

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe, an investigation by the Guardian has discovered. Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot.

Exhibit 2:

“Tyler was making real bucks. Nordstrom’s called and left an order for two hundred bars of Tyler’s brown sugar facial soap before Christmas. At twenty bucks a bar, suggested retail price, we had money to go out on Saturday night.”

I want you to hit me as hard as you can.

Bread And Circuses Update: Mercenaries? Check.

About that Freedom Walk:

“The march, sponsored by the Department of Defense, will wend its way from the Pentagon to the Mall along a route that has not been specified but will be lined with four-foot-high snow fencing to keep it closed and “sterile,” said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense.”

“The U.S. Park Police will have its entire Washington force of several hundred on duty and along the route, on foot, horseback and motorcycles and monitoring from above by helicopter. Officers are prepared to arrest anyone who joins the march or concert without a credential and refuses to leave, said Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford.”

Freedom: It’s on the march! ’cause that’s what freedom does!