The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Perfect early-autumn weather

Inner Drive Technology WHQ cooled down to 14°C overnight and has started to climb up into the low-20s this morning, with a low dewpoint and mostly-clear skies. Perfect sleeping weather, and almost-perfect walking weather! In a few minutes I'm going to take Cassie out for a good, long walk, but first I want to queue up some stuff to read when it's pissing with rain tomorrow:

Finally, my indoor Netatmo base station has picked up a funny mid-September thing: cicadas. The annual dog-day cicadas have only a few more days to get the next generation planted in the ground, so the remaining singletons have come out this morning instead of waiting for dusk. As you can see, the ones in the tree right outside the window closest to the Netatmo have been going at it since dawn:

The predominant species in my yard right now are neotibicen pruinosus, or "scissor-grinder" cicadas. But we also have our share of other species in Northern Illinois. And, of course, next May: Brood XIII comes out. That'll be fun (especially for Cassie)!

Friday lunchtime reading

It never stops, does it? And yet 100 years from now no one will remember 99% of this:

  • A group of psychiatrists warned a Yale audience that the XPOTUS has a "dangerous mental illness" and should never get near political office again. Faced with this obvious truth, 59% of Republicans said they'd vote for him in 2024.
  • Timothy Noah looks at the average age of the likely nominees for president next year (79) and the average age of the US Senate (60-something) and concludes our country needs a laxative. (Literally so in millions of cases.) Good thing US Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she'll run again next year, after she turns 84. Unfortunately, while I agree in principle with Andrew Sullivan's desire to see President Biden "leave the stage," all the alternatives seem worse to me.
  • Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL, age 78) has gotten some pushback from an even bigger dick, Justice Samuel Alito (R-$), because the Senator said it would look unethical if the Justice participated in a case involving a reporter who interviewed the Justice about his unethical behavior. But Samuel says he was ethical; and, sure, he is an honourable man.
  • Adolescent narcissist Elon Musk cut Internet coverage to the Ukrainian armed forces just as it started a surprise attack against Russia's Black Sea fleet, apparently at the behest of a Russian official. Josh Marshall calls this clear and convincing evidence that "[y]ou simply can’t have critical national security infrastructure in the hands of a Twitter troll who’s a soft touch for whichever foreign autocrat blows some smoke up his behind. But that's what we have here."
  • The Federal Transit Administration has finally committed $2 bn to expanding Chicago's Red Line subway to 130th St., a project first proposed in (checks notes) 1969. And who says the United States has the worst public transit funding in the developed world, other than all the urbanists who have ever studied the problem?
  • What do you get when you cross ChatGPT with Google Assistant (or Alexa or Siri)? Don't worry, Bruce Schneier says we'll find out soon enough.
  • "Boundaries" has a specific, limited meaning in psychology, not even close to the way most people use the word: "while the proliferation of therapeutic terms has given people access to necessary mental health tools, people may overgeneralize concepts such as boundaries and triggers, and use them to rationalize certain behaviors."

Finally, Guinness set the opening date for its new brewery in Chicago's Fulton Market district: Thursday September 28th. The Brews and Choos Project will visit soon thereafter.

Recycle all your creds in LastPass

Via Molly White, thieves made off with data from LastPass containing the encrypted passwords from 25 million users. They still have to crack the vaults to get at the data, which takes a long time, but Brian Krebs worries they have already succeeded in cracking a few of them:

In November 2022, the password manager service LastPass disclosed a breach in which hackers stole password vaults containing both encrypted and plaintext data for more than 25 million users. Since then, a steady trickle of six-figure cryptocurrency heists targeting security-conscious people throughout the tech industry has led some security experts to conclude that crooks likely have succeeded at cracking open some of the stolen LastPass vaults.

Armed with your secret seed phrase, anyone can instantly access all of the cryptocurrency holdings tied to that cryptographic key, and move the funds to anywhere they like.

Which is why the best practice for many cybersecurity enthusiasts has long been to store their seed phrases either in some type of encrypted container — such as a password manager — or else inside an offline, special-purpose hardware encryption device, such as a Trezor or Ledger wallet.

[Security researcher Nick] Bax said the only obvious commonality between the victims who agreed to be interviewed was that they had stored the seed phrases for their cryptocurrency wallets in LastPass.

If you use LastPass, MetaMask's lead project manager Taylor Monahan urges you to update your credentials now:

According to MetaMask’s Monahan, users who stored any important passwords with LastPass — particularly those related to cryptocurrency accounts — should change those credentials immediately, and migrate any crypto holdings to new offline hardware wallets.

“Really the ONLY thing you need to read is this,” Monahan pleaded to her 70,000 followers on Twitter/X: “PLEASE DON’T KEEP ALL YOUR ASSETS IN A SINGLE KEY OR SECRET PHRASE FOR YEARS. THE END. Split up your assets. Get a hw [hardware] wallet. Migrate. Now.”

If you also had passwords tied to banking or retirement accounts, or even just important email accounts — now would be a good time to change those credentials as well.

Another idea: don't hold your assets in crypto, which, unlike real banking, has no protection against theft and few ways to recover stolen funds.

Last hot weekend of 2023, I hope

The temperature has crept up towards 34°C all day after staying at a comfortable 28°C yesterday and 25°C Friday. It's officially 33°C at O'Hare but just a scoshe above 31°C at IDTWHQ. Also, I still feel...uncomfortable in certain places closely associated with walking. All of which explains why I'm jotting down a bunch of news stories to read instead of walking Cassie.

  • First, if you have tomorrow off for Labor Day, you can thank Chicago workers. (Of course, if you have May 1st off for Labor Day, you can also thank us on the actual day that they intended.)
  • A new study suggests 84% of the general population want to experience an orchestral concert, though it didn't get into how much they want to pay for such a thing. (You can hear Händel's complete Messiah on December 9th at Holy Name Cathedral or December 10th at Millar Chapel for just $50!)
  • An FBI whistleblower claims Russian intelligence co-opted Rudy Giuliani in the run-up to the 2020 election—not as a Russian agent, mind you, just as a "useful idiot."
  • Rapper Eminem has told Republican presidential (*cough*) candidate Vivek Ramaswamy—who Michelle Goldberg calls "very annoying"—to stop using his music in his political campaign.
  • The government of Chile has promised to investigate the 3000 or so disappearances that happened under dictator Agosto Pinochet, though they acknowledge that it might be hard to find the ones thrown out of helicopters into the sea, or dropped down mine shafts. And with most of the murderers already dead of old age, it's about time.
  • Julia Ioffe wonders when the next putsch attempt will get close to Moscow, now that Prigozhin seems to be dead.
  • About 70,000 people continue to squelch through ankle-deep mud at Black Rock City after torrential rains at Burning Man this weekend. (I can't wait to see the moop map...)
  • University of Michigan Law Professor Nicholas Bagley had a cogent explanation of why pharmaceutical companies don't want to negotiate drug prices with Medicare. (Hint: record profits.)
  • Switching Chicago's pre-World War II bungalows from gas to electric heating could cut the city's GHG emissions by 14%.
  • Molly White's weekly newsletter starts off with some truly clueless and entitled behavior from Sam Bankman-Fried and gets weirder.
  • Zoning laws, plus the inability of the Portland, Ore., government to allow variances in any useful fashion, has condemned an entire high school to send its kids an hour away by bus while the building gets repaired, rather than just across the street to the community college many of them attend in the evenings. (Guess what skin color the kids have. Go on, guess.)
  • A group of hackers compromised a Portuguese-language "stalkerware" company and deleted all the data the company's spyware had downloaded, as well as the keys to the compromised phones it came from, then posted the company's customer data online. "Because fuck stalkerware," they said.
  • Traffic engineers, please don't confuse people by turning their small-town streets into stroads. It causes accidents. Which you, not they, have caused.
  • Illinois had a mild and dry summer, ending just before our ferociously hot Labor Day weekend.
  • James Fallows talks about college rankings, "which are marginally more encouraging than the current chaos of College Football."

Finally, I'll just leave this Tweet from former labor secretary Robert Reich as its own little monument to the New Gilded Age we now inhabit:

Three notable deaths

An entertainer, a criminal, and an architect died this week, and we should remember them all.

The most notable person to die was singer Tony Bennet, 96:

His peer Frank Sinatra called him the greatest popular singer in the world. His recordings – most of them made for Columbia Records, which signed him in 1950 – were characterized by ebullience, immense warmth, vocal clarity and emotional openness. A gifted and technically accomplished interpreter of the Great American Songbook, he may be best known for his signature 1962 hit “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

In later years, he memorably dueted on the standard “Body and Soul” with Amy Winehouse, and released a full-length duet album with Diana Krall and a pair of recordings with Lady Gaga. Even after the revelation in early 2021 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he remained active.

Kevin Mitnick, 59, also died this week, but he won't be quite as missed as Bennet:

Described by The New York Times in 1995 as “the nation’s most wanted computer outlaw,” Mr. Mitnick was a fugitive for more than two years.

He was sought for gaining illegal access to about 20,000 credit card numbers, including some belonging to Silicon Valley moguls; causing millions of dollars in damage to corporate computer operations; and stealing software used for maintaining the privacy of wireless calls and handling billing information.

Ultimately, he was caught and spent five years in prison. Yet no evidence emerged that Mr. Mitnick used the files he had stolen for financial gain. He would later defend his activities as a high stakes but, in the end, harmless form of play.

At the time of Mr. Mitnick’s capture, in February 1995, the computer age was still young; Windows 95 had not yet been released. The Mitnick Affair drove a fretful international conversation not just about hacking, but also about the internet itself.

Today, 20,000 credit card numbers wouldn't even rate a single paragraph in the Times. How things have changed.

Finally, Chicago architect Richard Barancik, 98, left his mark on the world not just by designing iconic bowling alleys, but also as the last of the so-called "monument men" who repatriated art that the Nazis stole in the 1930s and 40s:

He was the last-known surviving member among nearly 350 "Monuments Men" who recovered art looted in Europe during World War II and shot to prominence with a 2014 film directed by George Clooney and starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett. Barancik hadn't talked much about the assignment before the movie, his daughter said, but once it came out, he was inundated by letters from schoolchildren and by autograph seekers and "World War II nuts."

By then, he had retired from an architecture career that paralleled the Gold Coast's post-war residential development, with high-rises sprouting on Lake Shore Drive and farther inland, readying the Near North Side for the yuppie invasion. His projects included 990 and 1212 N. Lake Shore Drive, office buildings 142 and 211 E. Ontario, and the 44-story and 73-townhouse development at Eugenie and Wells streets in Old Town.

Barancik also pursued suburban office complexes like the East-West Tech Park in Naperville and Woodfield Lakes in northwest suburban Schaumburg, and he designed Chicago Public Schools' Willa Cather Elementary School on the West Side, his daughter said. His bathhouses at Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park near Zion feature wavelike undulating roofs.

In media vita morte sumus. Requiescat in pacem.

Clearer air on an "inside" day

I had one of those "why am I working inside today?" moments when I got my lunch a few minutes ago. The obvious answer—Cassie needs dog food—doesn't always work when it's 27°C and sunny. It did get me to re-evaluate my dinner plans, however. Cooking pasta just doesn't appeal when my favorite sushi place has an outdoor patio that allows dogs.

Meanwhile, I'm adding a feature that might take the remainder of this sprint as it completely changes how we store and present 3rd-party calculation results to the end user. Previously we just presented the user's most recent calculation on the results page. But our pesky users seem to want to see their previous calculation results as well. Since we were throwing those away when the user made a new calculation, I have some work to do.

Meanwhile:

  • Via Bruce Schneier, the Gandalf AI app lets you socially-engineer an AI to get its password. Schneier himself hasn't gotten past Level 7, so good luck to you.
  • Tyler Austin Harper sees an uncomfortable connection between the movies Oppenheimer and Barbie, both of which open this weekend.
  • Office furniture brokers have a glut of inventory as post-pandemic return-to-office plans get slower and slower.
  • Today is the anniversary of Massachusetts Commodore Dudley Saltonstall's incompetent attack on the British garrison at present-day Penobscot, Maine, in 1779, that should remind all y'all commando wannabes what happens when amateurs attack a vastly superior professional force. (Also a reminder that Benjamin Franklin's diplomacy really won our War of Independence, not George Washington's soldiering.)
  • In what can't be politely described, so I'll call it a dick move, Universal Studios denuded a stand of trees along Barham Blvd. in Los Angeles to harass the striking writers and actors who had used the trees for shade in the 32°C heat. And the suits continue to wonder why everyone roots for the talent.
  • Of course, the suits broke the business in the first place, so maybe that has more to do with it.

Finally, now that Cassie has had her birthday photo and her sardine dinner, it's time for her bath. Wow, does she need one. And she's going to get one tomorrow morning, traumatizing though it is for her.

The indictment

I've just read the indictment against the XPOTUS and his "body man" Walt Nauta. Wow. As a FBI agent in The West Wing once remarked, "In 13 years with the Bureau I've discovered that there's no amount of money, manpower or knowledge than can equal the person you're looking for being stupid." And wow, was the XPOTUS stupid.

I'm not a practicing lawyer but I can read an indictment. If the US Attorneys can prove any of these facts—and I have no doubt they will—he's going to get convicted of a felony. Oddly, under our Constitution, he can still run for a second term if that happens, though he won't be able to vote for himself in Florida. But as Josh Marshall points out, the larger issues just distract from the utterly banal issues:

I wanted to share one thought.

That is the sheer ordinariness of the whole story. That may seem like a odd thing to say: ex-President facing multiple federal felony indictments for the first time ever, the bizarre details of this antic clown’s Florida Villa-cum-Hotel stuffed with banker’s boxes of classified documents, the bathroom chandelier, the power glitz jammed together with gaudy dime store aesthetic. But we grant Trump too much by lavishing, wearying too much in the purported weightiness of the moment. It’s very normal. Yes, powerful people get away with a lot. But if you commit crimes repeatedly and brazenly you’re very likely to get charged with one or more crimes, particularly if you’re in the public spotlight.

We hear endlessly how everyone not thoroughly in Trump’s thrall wants to ‘move on’ from the man. The first and most important part of that is shaking free of the reality distortion field that surrounds the man, as much for his foes as his followers. He’s hit with charges with evidence of his guilt that is clear and overwhelming and he jumps to the front to declare no one ever thought this could happen or be possible. He didn’t do it … but of course he was perfectly entitled to do it, even though he chose not to. Remember, he could have but chose not to. Got it? He attacks, defames. People get caught up in the frenzy of his seeming invulnerability and transgressive nature, the entertainment and the confusion. They’re wondering what he’ll do next. They’re baffled and suddenly the obvious ceases to be obvious.

Don’t be baffled. You may be thinking somehow there’s no way he’ll actually get convicted of anything. You’re wrong. He probably will. Maybe not. That happens too. That’s normal. It’s all normal.

I lived in New York in the late '80s and late '90s, and we always thought that the XPOTUS would never survive first contact with law enforcement. It took a while, but eventually his narcissism, unaccountability, and yes, his tiny little hands mind would eventually lead us here.

One more thing. John Scalzi called out all the remaining XPOTUS supporters to "get off the train," but hit on the reason they won't: "no one who is still on the Trump train at this point in 2023 is there for logical or rational reasons, you’re probably...stuck too far down in the grift to ever admit you’re the chump." But wow, the national security implications of this indictment alone should have every rational person in the country running from this guy.

Beautiful morning in Chicago

We finally have a real May-appropriate day in Chicago, with a breezy 26°C under clear skies (but 23°C closer to the Lake, where I live). Over to my right, my work computer—a 2017-era Lenovo laptop I desperately want to fling onto the railroad tracks—has had some struggles with the UI redesign I just completed, giving me a dose of frustration but also time to line up some lunchtime reading:

Finally, today marks the 30th anniversary of Aimee Mann releasing one of my favorite albums, her solo debut Whatever. She perfectly summed up the early-'90s ennui that followed the insanity of the '80s as we Gen-Xers came of age. It still sounds as fresh to me today as it did then.

National security reporters need to get some perspective

Good dog, people, the Discord document leak isn't that dire. And between yesterday's Post and the Times just now, I think we can all relax a bit.

Look, I haven't seen the leaked documents, nor have I sought to read them, because I don't believe I'm cleared to do so. But the only classification marking I've seen reported is "NOFORN," which just means that you can't share it with non-US citizens.

It's unlawful to disclose that you currently have or have ever had any security clearance above "Public Trust," which is the clearance you need to see, for example, social security numbers. I have worked on a military software project, and I spent time in the Pentagon and on several military bases. You may make whatever inferences from these statements you wish. I'm only saying I have some context for my analysis here.

People misunderstand classification levels, so let me try to provide some perspective. "Classified" just means a document has some notation about how sensitive it is, anything from "public trust" to "confidential" to "top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information" (TS:SCI). There are additional markings that color the overall sensitivity, like "NOFORN" (keep away from non-US citizens) or "FIVE EYES" (OK to share with the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but not anyone else).

I can't say for certain what kinds of documents exist at each level, but I can speculate. "Confidential" might include an email sent to everyone on a destroyer telling them what time the ship will leave port. The drunk Bosun's Mate 2 might share this information (unlawfully) with a foreign police officer to try to stay out of jail, and might even get an Article 15 for doing so, but...everyone in the port already knew this information.

"Secret" might include, the actual top speed of a warship. Everyone with Wikipedia knows the top speed of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is "in excess 30 knots," but only our allies, adversaries, other governments, merchant marines, Somali pirates, people with access to commercial satellite photos, and the tens of thousands of people who have served aboard one of these ships knows for sure how fast one can go. You know, a limited group of people.

"Top Secret" and above would include information that could actually get people killed, expose our methods, or ruin our day some other way. I won't speculate in this post about what could be in that category. But Duke University published an article in March 2012 revealing five declassified documents formerly marked "Top Secret," so you can draw your own conclusions.

Last night the Post published an interview with a dumbass kid who participated in the Discord community where a different dumbass kid leaked thousands of lightly-classified documents to impress other dumbass kids:

United by their mutual love of guns, military gear and God, the group of roughly two dozenmostly men and boys — formed an invitation-only clubhouse in 2020 on Discord, an online platform popular with gamers. But they paid little attention last year when the man some call “OG” posted a message laden with strange acronyms and jargon. The words were unfamiliar, and few people read the long note, one of the members explained. But he revered OG, the elder leader of their tiny tribe, who claimed to know secrets that the government withheld from ordinary people.

This account of how detailed intelligence documents intended for an exclusive circle of military leaders and government decision-makers found their way into and then out of OG’s closed community is based in part on several lengthy interviews with the Discord group member, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity. He is under 18 and was a young teenager when he met OG. The Post obtained consent from the member’s mother to speak to him and to record his remarks on video.

Bellingcat reports that some of the documents had "Top Secret" markings, but admits, "[a]s the channels were deleted following the controversy generated by the leaked documents, Bellingcat has not been able to confirm" what documents were actually leaked.

All of the other descriptions I've read suggest none the documents had anything in them that Al Jazeera didn't broadcast on its evening news cast later in the week. Embarrassing? Certainly. Anything that our allies and adversaries didn't already know about? Not a chance.

One more thing stood out. Clearly, the leaker was just a dumbass enlisted kid. My best guess: some dumbass Army E4 Specialist assigned to type up briefing papers for some O3 to give to some O5. In any event, I guessed he was no more than 22 years old and likely to get out of jail in his 30s.

It turns out, I wasn't too far from the mark:

The leader of a small online gaming chat group where a trove of classified U.S. intelligence documents leaked over the last few months is a 21-year-old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The national guardsman, whose name is Jack Teixeira, oversaw a private online group named Thug Shaker Central, where about 20 to 30 people, mostly young men and teenagers, came together over a shared love of guns, racist online memes and video games.

The Times has been able to link Airman Teixeira to other members of the Thug Shaker Central group through his online gaming profile and other records. Details of the interior of Airman Teixeira’s childhood home — posted on social media in family photographs — also match details on the margins of some of the photographs of the leaked secret documents.

The Times also has established, through social media posts and military records, that Airman Teixeira is enlisted in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Posts on the unit’s official Facebook page congratulated Airman Teixeira and colleagues for being promoted to Airman First Class in July 2022.

Airman First Class: a dumbass E3. And yes: his job was preparing briefing papers for officers. We'll see what the court martial says about his jail sentence in a couple of months.