Kecap Manis – a great quick ingredient

I bought this ingredient years ago from a supermarket because I had no idea what it was and I was curious. As time has gone by I’ve used this Indonesian sweet soy syrup more and more as I’ve found more uses for it. Basically it is a mix of soy sauce, sugar, galangal (a strong variant of ginger) and spices. It’s pretty sweet but not overpowering, less salty than plain soy, but it still has that soy-y umami thing going on. It’s sticky so it makes a great glaze and it gives a nice dark brown color when added to a dish. I first started using it in stir fries when I thought something was maybe a bit to sour, adding kecap manis would balance the sourness without diluting the saltiness and umami. Once I was in a bit of a rush and I didn’t have time to make a glaze for some salmon I was putting under the grill (broiler in the US), so I spooned some on and spread it around and it was really good. I usually will cut it with a bit of vinegar when I use it as a glaze just to balance out the sweetness, it’s thick enough it will still coat and stick.

Lately I’ve found even more uses for this versatile sauce. If I need a teriyaki sauce I don’t bother with the traditional method of heating the soy, sugar, and spices until it all dissolves, I simply pour some kecap manis into a bowl, add some rice wine vinegar and maybe some water, and whisk. You can also cut it with more plain soy depending on what you are marinading. Maybe if I want some extra kick I’ll mix in some chilli powder or powdered ginger (or grated fresh if there meat will be marinading long enough, otherwise there’s not enough time for the flavors to mix). It may not be as good as taking the time to cook a traditional teriyaki sauce but I swear I can’t tell the difference. This is because the ingredients for a teriyaki sauce are extremely close to that of kecap manis, ie soy, sugar, and spices. (I know teriyaki sauce doesn’t traditionally have vinegar in it but I add it to mine when I’m marinading chicken, a bit less for pork, and very little for beef. It just works.)

My best example of how amazingly useful this stuff is was this past weekend when I realized I had no barbecue sauce. I had guests coming in half an hour and a lot of work to do to prepare, so I had no time to cook a traditional bbq sauce. I grabbed a bowl, poured in some kecap manis, an equal amount of tomato ketchup, a teaspoon of mustard powder, then a tablespoon or so of white wine vinegar. 10 seconds of whisking and I had the best bbq sauce I’d ever made myself and it took less than a minute to make.

Where to find it:: I’ve found small bottles of it at the supermarket in the asian section but I go through those fast. Best go to an asian supermarket or grocery store.

How to use it: I wouldn’t add it to everything but it has a multitude of uses. I’ve even added it to gravy once when I needed to balance some acidity from some red wine. I use this as the main ingredient for glazes, some bbq sauces, and it’s useful in marinades. I’ve tried adding it neet to a stir fry but the result wasn’t good as the high heat burnt the sugars and made the end product bitter, also it beaded up and didn’t coat. If you cut it with a bit of regular soy or water that won’t happen.

If you like asian cooking and don’t have it pick some up. Even if you don’t it’s still handy if you like asian marinades and bbq sauces.

7 reasons against cloud computing

All the talk has been so about cloud computing this, the cloud that, and I’m sick of it because it’s rubbish whether it’s paid for or free. Here’s why:

1) Murphy’s law:
Any application that fundamentally depends on internet access or a hosted service will not work when you really need it. Let’s use Google maps on your mobile is a prime example. It’s a great app, one which I use. It’s pretty fast and it works well with the built-in GPS on my phone. I use it when I’m going somewhere and like a backup, but I would never, ever rely on it for primary navigation. You walk through a tunnel or under some power lines, and next thing you know you get a pop-up saying you need to re-connect. Not good if you’re lost or in a hurry. Can you imagine the horror when the presentation you were just about to set up becomes unavailable because of a local provider problem? Anyone who has been through September 11th (I have) or 7/7 (I had that day off thankfully) will realize how quickly communication can break down. If I’d been reliant on a connected application to find my way out of ground zero I would’ve been screwed. It’s not just in disaster scenarios: just a power outage, a sever blowing a diode, or an idiot with a backhoe can cut you off from your data.

2) Cloud computing gives other people control of your data.
In order for a cloud app provider to make their money they have to make you as dependent on them as possible, so when they balance the need for you to be able to use your data independently with their need for profit guess which side the bread will be buttered on. With all the disclaimers and legalease you sign (or click you’ve read when you haven’t) they are basically saying that your data is theirs to treat as they want. Worst case is that they give you a service and then change that service to extort money out of you. That app they said gives you access to your data locally? Well, it just got locked out until you agree to pay a monthly fee. That supposedly open format your documents are in has been changed to a proprietary encrypted format. You think it can’t happen? It’s only a matter of time before it does.
I’m not expecting much evil to be honest, but I do expect widespread indifference and incompetence due to the nature of the beast. Web companies make a profit because they make tiny amounts of money very, very often and they keep their costs as low as possible. Automation is the order of the day and your chances of getting human help are slim at best.
The only one with a vested interest in your important data is you, not them and you should never surrender control of it, EVER. What happens when they lose your data and they have no backups because someone screwed up? Remember that agreement you signed, the one that absolves them of any responsibility?
A good example of this is iTunes. It’s not a cloud app but it demonstrates the problem perfectly. It’s handy and it works, but they require you use their formats and their products and if you ever want to change you have to resort to 3rd party hacks of questionable legality and dubious origin just to gain control of your own music! Imagine if that was your tax documents or that novel you’ve been working on!

3) cloud computing lessens your power of choice:
On my PC I can decide to upgrade an application or not, and if I don’t like it I can chose another application. Not so with cloud applications. Once you’re on it the provider makes these choices for you and there isn’t much you can do about it. Sure, it may be great now but what happens when they start to suck? What happens when they change the feature that made you chose that app in the first place? It’s not likely to be an easy change to a new app.

4) security concerns:
One of the best hacking bangs for the buck has got to be web applications services. Look at the Twitter debacle where sensitive company documents were leaked out because a hacker guessed a username and password. If this hacker had broken into a PC he/she would have had to do some serious digging to get that level of sensitive information whereas in this case everything he/she could have wanted to find was all neatly organized, all that needed to be done was pull the files. One of the selling points of cloud apps is that they are available from everywhere, you can use any web browser in the world to access them, so this means ANYONE in the world can try and hack them and if they do that can spell disaster for the individual or organization. Take facebook for example; in a recent case a jilted boyfriend hacked into the facebook account of his ex and did enough personal damage to her to get sent to the big house, and that is just a social site!
It’s not just the individual cases, these cloud app providers have huge targets painted on them for anyone looking to steal personal data. Why go for an individual account when you go for the whole enchilada? There’s no reason you’d know it either as the app provider might a) not know about it or b) be trying to cover it up until after the annual report is announced. Again, they have a vested interest to protect themselves and not you.

5) centralized apps mean centralized risks:
back in the days of mainframes and timesharing any problem that effected the system impacted all the users on that system in a big way. One hour of computer downtime could mean 100 hours of lost productivity which is why when the PC came along it was an enormous leap forward. At last a computer problem would only effect one person! Now we’re talking about reversing that trend and going back to centralization when history has shown what a bad idea it is.

6) Bandwidth is the least reliable but most vital part of the equation:
Let’s face it, unless you live in South Korea you won’t be able to get internet access in every toilet, forest, and sub-basement, therefore you have limited access to your data. If I need urgent access to my medical records and the airport web access is down I’m out of luck. Furthermore mobile web access is extremely expensive, especially when travelling so why would you want to depend on it?

7) we don’t need it:
My phone is many times more powerful than my PC was 10 years ago and has an enormous amount of storage. I have a music collection and a fully-fledged mobile documents suite. The whole thing syncs to my PC so if I lose the device I’m not screwed. My home PC has a bucketload of useful apps, and since it’s behind a firewall it’s somewhat protected. Any vital files I can keep on a truecrypt-protected USB stick and carry with me. I’m not the only one with these capabilities, they are becoming ubiquitous with more power and storage in the palm of your hand every year. With all this capability why would anyone want to use an application that is insecure, is expensive or sometimes impossible to connect to, and where you are utterly beholden to the provider of the service when there’s no benefit? If computing power was a commodity then I could understand but bandwidth is the commodity in this model. The main selling point is the weakest part of the equation.

The web’s a fantastic medium with a huge variety of extremely useful applications and rich sources of information, and I think there’s plenty of good stuff coming down the pipe. I do however think that there’s no technical reason whatsoever for cloud computing given the proliferation of powerful portable devices and tiny portable storage, and there are significant disadvantages due not only to security and reliability concerns but also about the control of your data. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket and then giving it to someone you don’t know to carry who will only let you look at them.

Ubiquitous powerful computing has completely eroded any benefit of centralized applications when it comes to non-social or non-collaborative sites. What we need is better mobile applications that will increase productivity on the move, and better standards to improve interoperability rather than some kind of browser app war with no benefits to the user.

My September 11th

Every once and awhile someone brings up September 11th and I end up telling my story. There’s no especial reason for me writing this at this point in time except for some reason the muse is telling me to, and it’s usually right. I came pretty close that day, although it doesn’t seem that close at first. To make sense of this story I suggest pulling up a map of lower Manhattan and looking around 65 Broadway, 10006

September 11th was a gorgeous day. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the wind was perfectly calm, the day was still long, and the temperature was perfect: almost warm enough to make you sweat, but not quite. It was the type of day where you think about leaving work early and meeting your main squeeze in central park with a picnic basket and a bottle of nice sparkling wine. I was a bit sad about going to work it was so nice.

At the time I lived in upper Manhattan so my commute took me a bit less than an hour, say about 50 minutes. I left my apartment at around 8, it was 5 minutes to the 207th st A station, then about 40 minutes on the train to wall st. At Wall St I got out of the A and worked my way through the rabbit warren that is the Wall st subway station towards the corridor that would take me to Trinity Place to the left on which was my favorite deli for my breakfast which by that time I had decided would be a corn meal muffin toasted with butter. As I reached the Trinity Place side I heard a deep boom, which at the time I found curious, as it was too sustained to be an empty truck going over a pothole but I couldn’t thing of what else it might be. The time was 8:46am.

As I came out the corridor doors onto Trinity I immediately noticed a bunch of people all looking up and to the north. Ever the non-conformist, and remembering all the videos they showed in social psychology classes of everybody looking in a direction because one person was I determined I wasn’t falling for that old trick and started towards my office. I only got a couple of steps when I realized everyone, and I mean everyone was looking in the same direction, and not with the vacant curiosity of someone who doesn’t get the joke but with stares of alarm. Clearly something important was happening, so I joined the club and turned to look.

The first thing, or things I noticed were the thousands of pieces of paper floating down out of the sky. Reams and reams of letter-sized pages fluttering their way down, some on fire, most not. Behind them was a huge column of smoke. Nobody there realized what had happened because there was a building between us and the WTC; I thought the smoke and papers were from a building fire a block up. After a minute I couldn’t figure anything out from the people around or deduce anything more from the limited view I had so I figured I may as well get to work. My office at 65 Broadway had a window that opened up onto the roof at 67 Broadway about 18 stories or so up and I figured that was as good a place as any to see what was going on, so I briskly walked down to the deli and ordered. There was no wait that morning and in about 2 minutes I had my muffin and was paying when an overly calm man in a business suit came in and said he’d just seen an airplane crash into the World Trade Center and that was the cause of the fire.

I immediately knew that if an airplane had in fact crashed into the WTC (I didn’t know whether to believe this dude or not) that it had to be terrorism. The weather was perfectly clear, what we pilots call “severe clear”, there was no wind and little chance of turbulence so there was no possible way you could accidentally hit the WTC. Undoubtedly the weather was a factor in the terrorists’ choice of day as it would have been hard to pull that off in high winds or low cloud. At the time I thought they’d gotten ahold of a light aircraft and packed it with explosives, which would not have caused that much damage but would have made quite a show, but I never dreamed they had been able to hijack and take over the command of large passenger jets or I wouldn’t have gone up to the WTC site next.

The reason I went up to the WTC site was not to spectate, it’s that I have first aid training and I had always determined that I would volunteer if it was ever necessary so I trucked it up toward the WTC site, thinking as I went how crazy it was I’d just been at the bar on top of tower a few evenings before and now it was on fire. As I got up the street a bit I could see tower 2, but tower 1 was obscured so all I saw was smoke behind the south tower. A sizable crowd had gathered at the corner of Liberty and Church Streets but police were on the scene and everything was orderly. I worked my way behind the crowd to the corner of Church and Dey Streets where I could see what the situation was.

It was horrible. Fire raged across the whole structure engulfing several stories. As I watched I could see small pieces separating and falling the 1000 feet towards the ground although I couldn’t see the impacts because there was part of the complex in the way. I realize now what I was seeing was not pieces of structure falling but people jumping but I didn’t know that at the time. What was most staggering was the sound, or rather the lack of it; the fire was so intense that even 1000 feet away it was dampening all the noise so that I was in a pocket of quiet. It was bedlam around me: sirens converging from every direction, people screaming and shouting out of fear or adrenaline, and helicopters thumping overhead but I could have heard a pin drop. It was very surreal. I was stunned for a few moments as I took it all in, and then I shook myself out of it and decided that if I was going to volunteer to help I couldn’t do it standing on a corner with my jaw open; I was going to have to get closer, so I started across the street towards building 1. People were running like hell out of building 5 and I was the only one going to it. As I reached the other side suddenly all around my there were ringing noises, like pennies hitting the ground only not as loud, and I saw what looked vaguely like hail bouncing off the street all around me. I quickly realized that this was not a hail of ice but of metal that had melted off the building structure and solidified into BB-shaped pellets on the thousand feet down towards my unprotected body, that I possibly was getting in over my head, and maybe I should re-consider my present course of action. The first lesson with first aid is don’t become a victim. If a situation isn’t safe and can’t be made safe then you risk becoming one more person that needs rescuing, or worse, burying.

I hastily re-evaluated my plan of action. Fire engines, Ambulances, Police cars, trucks, bikes, even meter maids in 1-person buggies were converging on the WTC from all points of the compass. What was I going to do with no emergency equipment, little training, and no communications besides get in the way? Plus, if it was raining bits of aluminum what might be coming next? If you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem in a situation like that so I decided to reverse course and get clear of the area. Once back across the street I turned south and walked very fast the 3 or so blocks to my office. As I approached the entrance to my building I became aware of a whining sound which in a few seconds grew and grew into the unmistakable roar of a pair of large jet engines at full power, and getting much too close to be normal. It got louder and louder, echoing through the concrete canyons of the financial district until it seemed to go overhead, and then a mere second or two later a loud crash-boom noise. It was just after 9am. The second plane had just crashed into the south tower, tower 2, and the debris and burning fuel from the impact landed where I had been standing 3 minutes before. That shower of metal from the building probably saved my life.

Some part of my brain was processing events because I did put 2 and 2 together and come to the conclusion that a second aircraft had crashed into a building, but at this point I was just reacting. Not knowing what had just happened or how close it was, and figuring being inside was safer than being out I grabbed the closest 2 people to me and shoved them into the lobby of my office building. It was a precaution that was completely unnecessary as besides more burning paper and smoke there wasn’t much going on where I was.

It’s amazing how we try to go on in the face of events. Nothing proves this more than the fact I still went to work after all this. I’d like to say that I went to work because I knew that I would be able to see what was going on, or to get on the internet and read about it, but the real reason I went was because it was familiar and comfortable. There was no expectation of getting any work done that day and it certainly wasn’t as safe as just going home, it was an attempt to regain normalcy; to get my balance and take stock. It didn’t work because my office was bedlam just like out on the street. If you opened our kitchen window you could climb onto the roof of the building to the north, and it was high enough to have a grandstand view of the twin towers. After the first plane had hit the whole office had gone out there to look and when the second hit they had all taken off in case debris came their way. While running one of the admins had smashed her foot on a pipe sticking out and shattered it. Everyone was in shock, but she was in pain and shock. From my vantage point I could see part of tower 1 and all of tower 2. The airplane that hit tower 2 had impacted near the corner and I could see flames coming out of both sides of the building. Somebody had a radio on and reported that a third airplane had hit the pentagon, but news was scare and rumor was plentiful so we still didn’t know what the hell was going on.

As I sat at my desk taking stock I forced myself to eat the muffin that 20 minutes ago had been the most important thing in my day. I don’t remember even tasting it. I was hungry for news however. I scoured the internet for news stories but all that came out of it was that bad things were happening, but nobody was sure what. We didn’t have a TV in the office but we really didn’t need one, all we had to do was look out the window. After 15 minutes or so most of us gave up any pretense of work, I just watched the towers burn and did rounds around the office to hear if anyone had any news. People were asking what we should do. I was fairly high up the pecking order as I reported to the head of the US office (who wasn’t there at the time) but we were a small shop so it wasn’t really a question of authority. We probably would have left right away if it wasn’t for our injured co-worker.

The rational part of me didn’t like what it was seeing but the emotional part of me was in denial mode and leaving would mean acknowledging the situation. I still had it in my head that they’d put the fires out and life would go on as normal. The rational part of me wanted us to leave but I wasn’t the most senior person in the office and I didn’t want to boss anyone around. At the same time I wouldn’t leave my co-workers, especially not with one of them hurt. As the minutes went by I watched the South-East corner of the Tower which was the one closest to the impact and little by little I could see it buckle. The orientation of the tower meant that the damaged corner was pointing straight to us so if it was going to topple it was going to come right at us. I knew a bit about the tower’s construction and that the outer skin bore most of the structural weight and I tried to figure out the stresses a bit but I was way too stressed myself for any hard thinking. In the end I made myself take a deep breath and to work out the worst-case scenario in the simplest arithmetic. I figured that tower 2 was about 1400 feet, and that the impact was about 2/3 up the structure, so assuming the damaged area was the pivot point we had about 450 feet of tower that might topple towards us. We were 800 feet or so away so we wouldn’t get hit directly, but the sheer size and weight of it would cause massive damage to the area and would throw out a huge amount of debris in our direction. I took another long, hard look at the south tower and I swear it looked like it was leaning towards us. As the same time someone mentioned that the radio said there was a 4th aircraft and nobody knew where it was but they thought it was coming our way.

It was time to leave, and if nobody else was going to organize it then it was up to me. I told everyone to pack up their laptops, and grab whatever documents they would need in the coming days because we might not get back for awhile. That was the extent of my business recovery plan and it ended up being a wise move because it was weeks before we could get back into our office. My plan at the time was to use one of the office chairs to roll our injured admin to a safe place where we could get her tended to. A couple of people argued the point a bit and I said if they wanted to stay feel free, but I was taking the rest with me and that pretty much settled it. I got the first group down in the elevator and was rounding up the second. There was only the receptionist left in the office who had gone back to pick up something she’d missed when the south tower collapsed.

It was like a volcano had erupted; the building shook, the lights flickered, a couple of ceiling tiles dropped, and there was this deep rumble that you could feel as much as hear. The receptionist’s eyes were wide as saucers as she watched the wave of dust and debris coming down the street, frozen in shock. It was one of those moments where there’s nothing you can do except wait and hope it ends well; I’d never experienced a moment of helplessness like that before and I hope never to again. As the cloud of pulverized building enveloped us it became almost dark as night. Trinity place is a narrow city street, about 4 cars wide, yet I couldn’t see the building across the way it was so thick, and this was 18 stories or so up! There was no way were were going anywhere in that! The dust looked thick and choking, so I went back to the office and grabbed as many bottles of water as I could carry and headed for the stairwell, which was already getting thick with the dust which had been forced through every gap by the sheer force of the event. After a few floors I left the stairwell and went to the one on the far side of the building which was much clearer.

The lobby was much calmer than I expected, people were milling around but there was no panic, no shouting. There was a police officer in the building who was doing a very good job at keeping things organized, and it became a waiting game for awhile. On the lower lobby a meter maid was being tended to, she was covered from head to toe with thick dust so she’d obviously been caught outside when it happened. She a few abrasions but otherwise looked fine except for deep shock. It’s the first time (and probably the last) that I’ve ever had sympathy for someone who writes parking tickets for a living.

The building management had turned off the AC pretty quickly but dust always finds a way in and the lobby was full of it, so the building guys had rounded up every rag they could and were handing them out as face masks. I cut off the sleeve of my polo shirt and used it to keep the cloth tight around my mouth. By then I’d told the cop we had an injured woman who needed an ambulance but I didn’t expect much to be honest due to the scale of the situation, then I went back to milling around like everyone else. I didn’t have anything else to do so I compiled a list of everyone in the office in case there was further drama, which wasn’t far away. After that I spent my time tying to get reception on my cellphone which turned out to be impossible.

By this time the milling around was getting tiring and most were sitting down on the bare floor, there must have been 150 people at least on the hard marble. I had struck up a conversation with some Eastern European construction-y looking types who seemed much calmer than most others when the rumble happened again and the building shook. Again there was no panic, someone cried out but quickly sucked it up, my heart certainly skipped a few beats. Another cloud of dust, slightly smaller this time. The eastern Europeans still looked calm:

me: “you seem to have been through this type of deal before…”

Eastern European guy: “Yes, Sarajevo.”

me: “Ah.” What could I possibly say?

Now it was really a waiting game. The phones were out, cellphones had no reception either. I desperately wanted to tell my family I was OK but there was no way to do it. We still didn’t know what had actually happened mind you. People watching TV were getting it blow by blow but without any media all we knew was that something had happened to the towers but we weren’t sure what. The dust had to settle before we could leave and it would be a good hour and a half at least. I don’t remember very much of the time passing, I remember talking about the routes we would take to get home once we could leave. We split into 3 groups: one group decided to take the Staten Island ferry, one decided to take the Brooklyn Bridge, and the rest (me included) walk east to clear the area and then north.

The emergency services were incredibly well organized, less than half an hour after we told the cop in the lobby about our injured co-worker she was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital. With nothing to keep us there we decided to move out as soon as it was safe. We watched as the air cleared outside. At first we could barely see the other side of the street, then gradually it cleared until you could see some daylight again. The choking dust had mostly settled to a thick layer coating every flat surface. It was grimy but it wasn’t going to get any better, so it was time to go. Again, it was organized; the police had deployed officers along the route to direct people and were evacuating the buildings one by one. I stepped out with my fellow survivors into one of the most surreal experiences of my life.

It was like a scene out of a post-apocalyptic movie. The air was tinged with the stench of concrete and metal, plus a mix of burning … everything – plastic, paper, people. Every surface was covered with 2-3 inches of fine gray powder, but what really got me was the silence. I’ve never experienced a city as abjectly quiet as that, not only were there no vehicles moving within 2 miles of us but all aircraft has been grounded. The dust also had a deadening effect, even muffling our footsteps so the only real sound were our voices as we cracked feeble jokes and spoke soft words of encouragement to each other. There was no foliage to rustle and no wind to rustle it if there had been. One of the clearest images I have is passing a car that had been abandoned, engine running, in the middle of the road. It was covered with the same dust as everything else and it was so thick that it wasn’t until I was right beside it that I could hear the engine ticking over, but the driver had left the door open and the warning bell was loudly going ting-tong, ting tong. It was so quiet everywhere I could still hear it a block later. I remember thinking that this was the closest I ever want to get to a nuclear winter. It was eeeeeeeerie.

The evacuation route went east, then turned north, I think up William St, or maybe Nassau. We passed by the cross-streets that led to the WTC site: Maiden Lane, John st, and Fulton and each time we looked we only saw twisted shapes of metal through a thick, gloomy pall of smoke and unsettled dust. If you’d told me at that point that both towers had completely collapsed I would not have believed you, and you couldn’t have proved it by looking.

As we neared the Brooklyn Bridge things went closer to being a city and not a war zone. We saw streets and people not covered in dust, the sun came out again as we got away from the dust and smoke, and the air became as clear as it ever gets in New York and we could dispense with our face masks. I notice I’m using the term we instead of I, and I’m doing it because that’s how it felt. We were all in it together. If one person managed to get a signal they would make calls for other people they didn’t know or try to pass on messages to others’ loved ones. We felt like one in a way. I can’t even remember who I was walking out with now, it’s all a blur, but I still get a good feeling thinking about it. This didn’t stop with those walking out of ground zero, the whole city came out to help us. People in offices brought their water dispensers outside and gave cups away to anyone who needed it. Others were offering to let people use their toilets or sit for awhile. Everyone who I know who walked out of ground zero was moved by the outpouring of human kindness from those along the way. I think if there’s one positive thing to have come out of that day it was that it made people get back in touch with their sense of community.

By this time it must have been early afternoon. The towers has been down at least 2 hours I’d guess and I still hadn’t gotten a signal on my cellphone or found a working payphone to let my family know I was still alive. Everyone was in the same boat and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it. The city was paralyzed: the subway system was closed, buses weren’t running so the only transportation were the 2 stick things attached below your hips. I was glad I was wearing comfortable shoes and I imagine the fashion victims were becoming victims of fashion after a couple of miles.

I don’t remember the exact route I took home but it was up the east side and I think we went up 2nd. My mother lived at 105th and Broadway (the west side) at the time so this was a bit out of my way but the rest of the group I was with was heading to the Queensboro bridge on East 59st street so I had decided to stick with them and see them over. I felt some responsibilityfor them as I’d organized the office evacuation and was supposed to keep track of where everyone went. By this time that was pretty unnecessary but it felt good as it was doing something. Along the way we passed the UN, city workers were using buses and garbage trucks to block the streets to it in case of further attacks. Soon after that I bid my co-workers farewell and we went our separate ways. It would be more than a week before we would meet up again.

At some point the subway and buses started going but I didn’t want to use them. The idea of going underground or getting stuffed in a box above it just seemed awful at the time, plus it felt good to walk which I’ve always found therapeutic. I finally found a working phone about west 63rd st, about 7 miles walk from where I’d started south of ground zero and was able to tell my very worried mother that I was all in one piece. I eschewed any offers of a ride and decided that I’d walk the 2 miles or so the rest of the way.

As I walked the shock was wearing off. I had walked halfway up Manhattan island and not felt a thing but now I started to tire and my feet began to hurt. As I trudged I expected to get looks of astonishment from people, but I guess seeing someone who is missing a sleeve and is a bit dusty didn’t penetrate the fug of the day’s events. Plus in NYC that’s nothing, you learn to tune out vagrants wearing fireman suits stuffed with human feces so what’s special about a reasonably well-dressed guy with one sleeve shorter than another looking a bit dirty? In some ways I wanted to be noticed because after being with people walking out I was missing human contact. I felt a bit disconnected after the whirlwind of events and I didn’t want to go back to being anonymous. Mostly I was confused.

When I got to my mother’s apartment I was treated like the prodigal son. I’d grown up there and only recently moved out so I knew everyone who worked in that building on a first-name basis. When the doorman saw my state he made sure I was all right and asked what had happened to me. He called to make sure they knew I was on my way up and my mother was hugging me before I even got out of the elevator.

I spent the next couple of hours watching CNN. There was no other news that day so I very quickly saw the footage of what I had felt rather than see. It was right there in perfect color. Part of me didn’t want to watch as it made me re-live it but another part of me was transfixed and couldn’t stop watching it over and over. Eventually I caught a ride home.

The next few months were difficult. We couldn’t get to our office so I worked from home day after day, sometimes not going out which was not good for my state of mind. Fortunately my girlfriend (now wife) was wonderful and helped me through it. The city pulled itself together and normal life established itself. I restored our company email by carrying (with help) a 50 pound server down 20 flights of stairs and then dragging it 20 blocks up past ground zero (which smoldered for months afterwards) to our data center. Services were restored to our office after a month and we were back in our office.

I was constantly reminded that I had got off pretty well and that others weren’t as lucky. Across the street from our office was a parking structure, the top floor of which was open. After the financial center was re-opened to traffic this started to clear but after a time is was plain that some of these cars weren’t going to be picked up. Eventually these started to go as well as the next of kin or the banks started having them collected but 6 months later there was this one car, a white Mercedes, that was still there, the remnant of a life that had been lost. Every time I looked out my window and saw that it made me a bit sad. Eventually it was gone too.

Other things took a bit longer to go. For a couple of years every time I’d feel the ground shake when a train went underneath me I’d be brought back to that horrible moment when the first tower collapsed and I stood in the corridor wondering if that was it, but that went away too.

September 11th was craziest day of my life. I was closer than I ever wanted to be to momentous events of that kind, and way, way closer to getting killed than I like to think about. In a short space of time I saw both the worst and the best that man has to offer. It was a day full of confusion and fear, yet also full of kindness and hope. I have no scars and I don’t feel particularly changed by the experience, and I don’t live my life differently because of it except for putting an emphasis on living it to the fullest. I feel like a boat that’s come undamaged through rapids: it’s been through a harrowing experience but you can’t tell by looking. It’s hard to come up with something to cap a narrative like this. I would like to say something meaningful and profound, but all that I can really say is that I survived and for that I’m grateful.

I came closer to being one of the dead than may be apparent from my story. I related how the wreckage from the second airplane came down on the street where I had very recently been, but I was far closer than that except it happened months before the attacks. To explain: I was working for an internet startup at the time as employee number 4 in the US and we were looking for permanent office space. We went all around the financial district looking at different options. There was some disagreement between the COO of the US office and the heads of the company in London as to the type of office we were looking for and how much they were willing to spend. The COO pressed on and actually signed on the dotted line of a lease when they fired him and somehow pulled out of the deal. I was disappointed because at the time as I would have liked to work in the 104th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Review – Star Trek – warning spoilers

When I saw the new Star Trek movie last night I went in without any real expectations besides seeing an entertaining movie. I used to be a bit of a trekkie when I was a kid in that I liked the TV shows and movies, but not to the level of geekdom. More recently I’ve not been very interested as I’ve found the series in the past decade to be nothing but a re-hashing and re-re-hashing of next generation plots so when I heard that it was a complete re-imagining of Star Trek rather than just a prequel I thought it could be in the entire spectrum from fantastic to dire. I’m pleased to say I thought it was enjoyable and pretty good, but not nearly as good as it could easily have been. It’s rare to find a movie that I don’t think could be improved. Alien, Aliens, and the original cut of the original Star Wars are a few sci-fi examples which I personally think are about as good as they can get. Any changes would just make them different, not better.
The new Star Trek is different. I liked it but I can think of many ways it could have been a better film. The idea of the movie is to show the evolution of Kirk and Spock from youth through academy to being on the Enterprise. That’s a huge wealth of material and could have led to a rich storyline and several moview, instead this movie was rushed to the point of ridiculousness. After a great first sequence there’s one scene apiece about Kirk and Spock’s youth and then another one as young adults, then they’re both at the academy, Kirk as a cadet and Spock as an instructor, with Uhura as a eye candy. There’s about 5 or 10 minutes which breeze over all of Kirk’s academy days (none of Spock’s at all), then all of a sudden they’re on the Enterprise in the midst of the crisis and Kirk’s made first officer to Spock being captain. Now mind you Kirk is still at this point a cadet who hasn’t even graduated so it’s pushing it to say the least to make him XO of the Federation’s latest and greatest flagship as he has no experience whatsoever. An artificial and stereotyped conflict is generated between Kirk and Spock which I think takes away from the film as it’s never really developed, and it’s a symptom of the movie’s main flaw. The other characters: McCoy, Sulu, Checkov, and Scotty get kinda chucked at you with no history and for the most part are almost parodies of the characters from the old series. None of them get any real time to flourish and they instead have to resort to the mannerisms and lines from the original series characters in hopes you’ll fill in the blanks. They even bring in Leonard Nimoy to play an old Spock from an alternate universe (the one we know) ostensibly to give a reason for the plotline but more likely to give some sort of artificial credence to die-hard fans whom the producers mistakenly feel wouldn’t otherwise see this as a “real Trek” film. The effect is unfortunately wasted and actually takes away from what was already, for me at least, working on its own.
The plot is standard trek fare: a crazy Romulan bent on destroying the federation, except this is an alternate timeline from the Trek we know so things go differently. This isn’t a problem for me as I’ve never given a crap about the Star Trek “Lexicon”: the accumulation of Trek lore which is to trekkies as the Bible is to a Baptist. The alternate timeline gives them a license to go in a completely direction plot and style-wise which I find exciting and the movie does a decent job at using this to tell an old story in a new way. Eric Bana as the Romulan baddie of the week doesn’t have a very workable plot or character to work with as the reason he’s pissed off with the Federation makes little sense, so all he can really produce is a sort of general super-evilness without any direction. It’s not that he isn’t believable, it’s just there’s nothing for him to make us believe. Still, it’s not that big a deal as the baddie isn’t as important as the crew of the Enterprise and it’s enough to make the movie work.
I have to say they made some good casting decisions for the primary characters. The young Kirk is pretty good and I liked the guy who played Spock. The other characters didn’t get developed enough to know whether they were any good or not; they were sprung whole, mannerisms and all, giving us no idea where they got them from. Maybe I didn’t like that part because I’m used to the actors from the old series, but I think it’s because we were cheated out of so much of what a prequel is supposed to give you; insight into what made the later characters the beings we know and love. I wanted to see them grow up a bit, not be shoveled at you as complete characters. Kirk comes out of the box as a fantastic, legendary leader with incredible confidence and I just don’t buy it. A person is greatly influenced by life experience and this movie doesn’t even begin to touch on the experiences that made these characters, and I found it hard to digest.
It could have been so much better and still told the same story more or less. After the academy they could have been junior officers on the enterprise or some other ship and gone through some sort of crisis that would have allowed them to develop from kids to adults, and show us how they formed a team and learned to trust each other. This format would also have let the new actors make these characters their own rather than forcing the issue and the movie would seem much less rushed. Some evolution would have made sense of the context of the film, instead it’s all thrown at us mixed with loads of special-effects.
Flaws aside there’s plenty to like in this movie. They did an excellent job of capturing the sights and sounds of the old series but brought them completely up to date in a way I really liked, and they worked in some light humor that evoked a bit of the old series’ spirit. The special effects are excellent and the action sequences are exciting and well-directed. I liked the direction they took the movie, and I like the possibilities of this alternate universe. The new Kirk and Spock worked for me not because they did a good job at re-creating the old Kirk and Spock but because they didn’t try. They had a chance to make these characters anew and did it well. I liked this movie but didn’t love it; it didn’t try to do too much, it just tried to do it the wrong way. Everything was just a bit too quick and convenient in this film, which had the goal of getting Kirk from unborn foetus to the captain’s chair with the full complement of characters and battling evil as soon as humanly possible, which it accomplishes in about 20 minutes. I was slightly disappointed by this lack of development, but not enough to keep me from recommending my friends watch it as it is still well worth seeing for its good points. Get some popcorn and get ready for some fun.

lies, damn lies, and the London Underground

This morning I, with many thousands of other commuters, were subjected to the complete and utter ball-ache that is a central line delay. Yes, I know it is caused by the antiquated signaling system falling over for one reason or another, and I accept that there’s no cheap, quick, or easy solution to the problem and that it will happen from time to time. What really bothered me about the situation this morning was the lack of useful information and the outright bullshit being shoveled out of the underground staff. The PA announcements say one thing and the driver says another, frequently at the same time.

station PA: “there are severe delays on the Central Line due to an ongoing signal failure at Bank, please use other alternatives to complete your journey.”

Are you kidding me?! If there WERE other alternatives do you think I’d be taking the frigging underground in the first place? Or do you think I’d be standing here if I knew a bus that would get me there faster in the circumstances? There ARE no alternatives and they know it, but saying to take one makes them feel they’ve absolved themselves of the responsibility of transporting you to work.

30 seconds later – Driver: “for those of you who have just joined us there are severe delays on the central line this morning due to a signal failure at Bank, we will be held in this platform until cleared to proceed”

Yes, for those of you hard-of-hearing who couldn’t hear the PA blaring as you walked into the station and who didn’t notice the massive crowd of people standing forlornly outside a train overflowing with extremely grouchy looking commoners, there is in fact a delay.

30 seconds later – Station PA: “there are severe delays on the Central Line due to an ongoing signal failure at Bank, please use other options to complete your journey.”

Gee, thanks.

30 seconds later – Driver: “blah blah blah”.

You don’t get a moments peace and you aren’t told anything new, which is doubly frustrating. One of the survival techniques underground commuters develop is the ability to zone out, to go into your own little world and almost forget the smelly dickhead who isn’t paying attention to the placement of his elbow, or the fact that there’s a fat ugly woman grinding her tits into your back. All these constant announcements do is snap you out of your blissful trance and drag you back into the horrible reality of it all. Let me be in my alternative universe for a little while, please! Maybe every 5 minutes make an announcement or when there’s new information by all means do tell, but otherwise give it a rest! We know there’s a delay, and we haven’t forgotten why.

It wasn’t always like this, they used to never tell you anything and it wasn’t good. I think the underground was getting criticized for it, and rightly so, however as a way of “taking the public’s comments on board” they decided to engage in the audio equivalent of spam, only with spam I can hit a delete button but I can’t touch a switch and make myself deaf. They’re now flooding the stations with useless information letting you know that for once all London underground lines are running a good service (although they do stretch the definition of good pretty often), that a train will be arriving in 2 minutes when the platform screen that can be read by anyone says 2 minutes, or they remind you to take your bags with you when you leave the train as if I would forget otherwise. Do they really think that because they make an announcement at Wanstead to remind me to remember my belongings that when I get to Holborn I’m going to think “hey wait, the nice lady on the PA system said to remember my stuff, do I have everything?”

Eventually we moved one stop to Leytsonstone, and things got interesting because Leytonstone is where 2 branches come together and there are actual buses that stop next to the station, and now London Underground’s job is to try and con you to take one of them. According to their announcements there is a plethora, a veritable surfeit of brand new, shiny, double-deckered alternatives to the obviously old and busted underground you normally take. Only a fool, only a moron would stay when you can simply walk outside straight into a glorious carriage that will whisk you speedily away to Stratford in comfort and dare they say it, joy. To their surprise few take them up on their offer so a few minutes later they announce that the central line is suspended and no trains will be moving into central London – ever! Now you have to take the bus – HAH!

Now the exodus begins as the be-knighted commuters, weary before their day has even really begun, trudge out the exit to find that the promised bumper crop of buses that are lined up outside are actually one, and it comes 3 times an hour. And there’s one there already that is packed full. And it takes 50 people maximum. And there’s already 500 people waiting for it in front of you. No doubt many of them tried to re-enter the station to try their luck with the beleaguered tube only to find that the station staff weren’t letting anyone back in.

I wasn’t one of these poor souls because I’ve swallowed their story before and paid the price. Once I was quick enough to have gotten close to the front of the bus line before the thundering herd and only waited 40 minutes for one only to find that the quick trip to Stratford takes about 25 minutes at best. The other times I have walked to Stratford only to find that the central line has been running again.

After those fun examples I decided that they’d have to physically remove me if the want me to leave the train and I resolved to wait and see. Sure enough, 10 minutes later the train shut its doors and left – during an announcement that the central line was still suspended. I eventually got to work an hour later than I should have.

So they lie to the people they are supposed to be serving, they don’t care if you have to trudge to Stratford in the rain or wait an hour for the bus, you’re out of their hair.

Another typical London Underground lie is to use “health and safety” to justify laziness. For example, they routinely block people from entering Holborn station because there’s one escalator that’s out of commission. When you ask why it’s “health and safety”, ie a catch-all for something they wanted to do but couldn’t justify any other way. When you ask how having hundreds of people spilling out onto the busy street outside the station nearly getting run over by taxis is safer than some people walking down instead of riding an escalator you get an intentionally blank look. It’s more trouble for them, so it’s “health and safety” bullshit on the spade this time.

Of course, the biggest lie in the London Underground system is that it’s good value for money. It isn’t. It’s expensive, noisy, slow, unreliable, cramped, and it closes way too early. It’s the most costly system in the world because it’s old, they pay the staff too much for what they do, and the privatized companies that run and maintain it are given a guaranteed profit. The privatization contracts are for maintenance of the system only, not for improvements of any kind whatsoever, so the painful fact is that until Transport for London gets their collective thumb out of their ass and spends some money replacing the Victorian-era pile of shit that they call a signaling system we will continue to suffer horrific and painful experiences that are completely avoidable.

Too often we’re lied to not to protect us, but to make life easier for those running the system. When the system breaks we’re lied to in an effort to herd us to non-existent transportation alternatives because it’s the easiest way to reduce the load on the system. Health and safety is too often used as a trump card to justify expediency. We’re lied to about the state of the system we pay so much for and told we’re getting our money’s worth, which we are most definitely not.

All the lying is creating a climate of mistrust and undermines any credibility that the underground staff have. Don’t tell me there’s alternatives when I know there aren’t because it guarantees everyone will ignore you. Health and safety’s wearing thin too.

And for the love of heaven please tell the people on the PA to stick a cork in it for 5 minutes, they’re driving me nuts!

the wrong type of dust – airborne particles and climate change

In the past week there have been 2 pieces of news, both about the effects of particulates (ie dust) on the atmosphere and climate, and both challenge the commonly held belief that CO2 in the atmosphere is the prime cause of climate change.

To put it briefly, different particles act differently depending on size and composition. Soot is dark and tends to absorb sunlight and re-emit it as heat while other particles like sulphur compounds tend to reflect heat. Industrialization has caused massive increases in particulates caused by construction, combustion, and urbanization. The scientists are saying is that it is this that has caused climate change and not the increase in CO2 emissions. According to these theories, the efforts to reduce sulphur emissions to combat acid rain have reduced the reflectivity of the atmosphere causing an increase in heating as there’s less to counteract soot.

This is interesting because it addresses the fact that the arctic is heating faster than the antarctic. The northern hemisphere is much more industrialized and the majority of particulate emissions happen here, the scientists are saying that black soot is coating the ice which makes it absorb heat more, and with reductions in sulphur more sunlight is reaching the ice for it to absorb, causing the alarming arctic melting.

The suggestion here is that in order to stabilize temperature we need to reduce soot emissions and possibly think about increasing sulphur emissions. The trouble with the second part of that is that sulphur forms acid rain which causes deforestation. hmmmmmm.

Are they right about particulates as opposed to CO2? There’s insufficient data to be sure, but I doubt that’s the whole story. The issue I have with both camps is that there ARE camps in the first place. The earth’s climate is extremely complex and in all likelihood both sides are right to a certain extent, yet both say one is completely right and the other completely wrong. This attitude is common in science but this is like 2 people fighting in a burning house. The point to take from this is that there’s a lot about the climate we don’t know, and before we invest massively in a solution we really need to more fully understand the problem.

It’s time to launch more climate study satellites and to mandate that all new commercial aircraft carry scientific instruments to study the air. There also needs to be a fully-funded international initiative to investigate geo-engineering to find and test better alternatives to dumping millions of tons of pollution into the air, although in the near future we may see the phrase “give a hoot – pollute”.

Chili Recipe

I’ve been asked for my Chili Recipe (chili con carne for those in the UK), so here it is. This recipe serves about 4 hungry people (or 3 hungry musicians when I made this for my mother’s singers). Because this recipe uses ground pork and poultry instead of ground beef (mince to the Brits) I like to add some chewy pasta to give lots of bite. Brits usually like their chili with rice so feel free to leave the pasta out if you like. For those who want their chili with beef I suggest frying up the ground beef separately and draining the fat to keep the grease level down. The beauty of this dish is that it can be made a couple of days ahead of time and it just gets better. Make a huge batch and freeze it for months for those days you want something hearty. This isn’t some new-age fancy fusion recipe, this is bold, spicy, rich stuff to warm the cockles of your heart. As my grandfather used to say it “sticks to your ribs”.

The chili will be as good as the ingredients you put in but there’s no need to be extravagant. Good canned tomatoes and quality chili powder will make a better chili but you use whatever you can find. There’s a hundred varieties of chili powder of varying heat levels or flavors. I like to use some smoked powders but you can’t always get those. Mild chili powder, paprika (paprika is just a mild chili powder which is sometimes smoked, nothing more), dulce pimenton (sweet spanish paprika), etc will make a very tasty dish without much trace of heat. To add chili flavor without the heat you can drop in a couple whole mild chilis and then pull them out before serving. If you like heat then use some chopped fresh chili and some hot chili powders. I’m partial to using some smoked chili as I like the flavor.

Here’s some fresh/dried/powdered chili combinations for varying spice levels. Some you can only find in specialty stores but many of them are available at a good supermarket. I usually start with these amounts and add more later if the dish needs it:
mild:
1 whole mild chili
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp paprika, smoked if you can find it, or alternately ancho chili powder

medium:
1 medium sized chopped mild chili, or if you can find them, a whole smoked chipotle
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp hot chili powder (store bought or something more interesting like chipotle chili powder or cuyanne pepper)

hot (and I mean it):
1 large chopped hot chili or a couple of habaneros or scotch bonnets.
1 tbsp cuyanne pepper
1 tbsp chipotle chili powder (use hot supermarket chili as a substitute for either)

I don’t use bottled hot sauces when I make my chili as they are usually too vinegary and many add flavors I don’t like. Using fresh, dried, or powdered chili is cheaper and gives a better result than bottled sauces.

This recipe is very flexible meat-wise and you can customize it for your taste and available ingredients. In the states I usually use a mix of 1 pound (500 grams) ground chicken/turkey and 1 pound italian sausage which you can find in most grocery stores. In the UK you can’t find authentic Italian sausage many places and most popular british-style sausages are too mealy for this recipe, so I make it using either 2 pounds (1 kilo) of ground turkey or half turkey and half pork and spice it up. I prefer to make the sausage an hour or two ahead of time if possible.

pork/turkey sausage:
1 pound ground turkey/1 pound ground pork, or 2 pounds ground turkey
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground savory
1 tsp cumin powder
splash of red wine

get in there with your hands and mix well, then refrigerate for 1 hour if possible.

oil for the pan
1 pinch cumin seed
1 red or vidalia onion, chopped medium
3 cloves garlic, chopped chunky
sausage meat from above, or 1 pound ground turkey, 1 pound italian sausage, squeezed out of casings and crumbled
2 regular cans chopped tomatoes
chili mix from above
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil (or add some fresh chopped basil at the every end)
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp unsweetened chocolate powder (or 2 tsp instant coffee)
ground pepper to taste
1 can kidney beans, rinsed (optional)
1 can refried beans (optional)
1/2 box chunky pasta like shells or fussili cooked al dente. (optional)
small handful of chopped fresh cilantro (aka coriander leaf)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
grated cheese for the top (optional)

heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid until it is hot but not smoking, add the cumin seed and toast for 30 seconds or so until they start to brown a bit (don’t burn them), then add the onion and saute until they start to soften. Add the garlic and saute until onions are soft and start to carmelize. If you have the space and a large frying pan brown the meat at high heat and then add into the pan with the onions as you’ll get better flavor from the meat, but if you don’t have the space or inclination just brown it along with the onions. Once the meat is browned add the tomatoes chili, cumin, oregano and basil, thyme, pepper, and coco. Simmer for at least 20 minutes as the longer you cook it the better it gets. Taste and add more chili or cumin as necessary. Speaking of cumin, this spice is as important to a good chili as chili powder. Don’t skimp! Don’t add any salt yet as salt can toughen the beans, and you may get some salt from the pasta, instead wait to add salt to taste at the very very end. Refried beans make the chili thick and rich but will also deaden the flavors, so if you plan to add them make the chili more spicy and more pungent than you’d have if you were leaving it out.
I prefer to add the kidney beans at least 10-15 minutes before the chili is done if I add them at all as it softens them. Adding them just before it’s done keeps them chewy. Add the refried beans and mix well. Before serving taste and add more chili or cumin to taste. Definitely add salt at this point. Some canned tomatoes are a bit sour so if it’s too tart add a small spoon of brown sugar or honey and try it again. Once you’re satisfied remove from the heat. If mixing in pasta make sure it’s very chewy, there’s no point in adding soggy pasta. Add the fresh herbs and serve.

Note: when tasting anything spicy remember that the heat is concentrated in the oils that collect at the top of the chili. If you skim the top when tasting you’ll get more spice than the rest of the dish, so always stir and try to get a sample from under the top.

Variations:
– Without the pasta this chili can be used as a burrito or enchilada filling. A great pot-luck dish is to fill a baking dish with enchiladas, pour some mole sauce on the top, cover with cheese and then bake 15-20 minutes.

– you can use any chopped leftover meats instead of fresh ground meats. Marinated pork tenderloin is especially good.

Intel Hardware Hacking

I’ve been reading about a potentially serious vulnerability in Intel processors. To summarize, security researchers have discovered a way to access Intel CPUs System Management Mode (SMM) and run rootkits. A rootkit is a tool that allows an attacker to completely take over a computer system and do whatever they want with it and usually the only way to get rid of it is a complete rebuild of the system. SMM is a diagnostic tool designed to help chip designers and runs at a higher privilege level than the Operating System, so once in SMM an attacker can run programs whether you like it or not. Worse, SMM can made completely invisible to the target PC so something could be running there any you’d never know it. This attacks your computer’s hardware instead of it’s software, and once a malicious program is there it’s free to do what it wants, and can possibly even save itself in your hardware so it loads on startup.

In short, if successful an attacker could take complete control of your system and bypass every security measure you have and you’d never even know it, much less be able to do anything about it.

It’s not that clear how widespread this vulnerability is but it’s fair to say it affects a large proportion on Intel-based computers produced in the last few years. This is more than just PCs and laptops but servers, network devices, and security devices as well.

An undetectable rootkit is definitely a very, very bad thing so serious efforts are under way to fix this The good news is that it looks like traditional methods will have to be used to load it on, so installing security updates and having good anti-virus software is still your best defence. It’s not as if anyone can take over your computer no matter what your precautions, it’s just that if they do penetrate your computer’s defences the potential for damage has gone up substantially.

What is most concerning about this for me is not the fact that it bypasses security so thoroughly, although that is a major worry. in truth there are already many other much easier ways to gain control of systems for fun or profit as many people do not install security updates or have antivirus software installed. This type of attack, while powerful, isn’t suddenly going to bust things open. The sophistication of this attack will prevent widespread exploitation by anyone but the most clever and knowledgeable of crackers at least for now. The very sophistication however is the problem in that anyone who has the skills to gain this method will have the skill to exploit it to its fullest potential. The danger is more in it’s stealth than it’s power: as a rootkit installed using this method is completely undetectable a sophisticated attacker could exploit it so subtly that the victims may never have a clue that they’re been attacked.

For now there’s nothing you can do about this except what you hopefully do already: install security updates and buy good antivirus software. For now the race is on to see if Intel and the security industry can come up with a fix before this is widely exploited.

For the curious more information can be found here:
http://invisiblethingslab.com
http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/security/?p=1130

popular pension pilfering

Fred Goodwin is under assault because he has the temerity to refuse to give up his pension after the failure of RBS, which I think is completely justified. What are we to say, that we can remove somebody’s life savings because he/she has been found guilty in the court of public opinion? The man has a pension guaranteed by contractual obligation, and simply because the bank did badly does not mean there is any legal or moral justification to try and take it away. If he did a bad job then take away his bonus, even charge him with a crime if he committed one, and if he is convicted then maybe there’s a case. If not, then fire him and let him retire – on his pension.

If the government pursues this case and wins then it will set the precedent that if someone does a bad job that all they’ve worked for their entire life can be taken away from them with the stroke of a pen which, besides being an infringement of human rights and diabolically vindictive, would not exactly encourage people to take positions in the UK. Bonuses are there to encourage hard work and success, and pensions are there to make sure that people can retire without being poor. If we take away these benefits or make them subject to popular whim then we will be ensuring that the best and the brightest go elsewhere in the world to make their fortune which would destroy the UK finance sector.

How much money has been spent on this argument already? OK, the guy has a £16 million pension, does that mean that the government is going to spend millions to make him give it up? In the midst of the world’s worst financial crisis in a century are we really saying that arguing about one man’s pension no matter how big is a good use of the government’s time?! All the parties are pandering to public opinion and not one of them is saying what needs to be said which is that this is a waste of effort! This is cowardice of the most pathetic kind, and I’m ashamed to see Gordon Brown, who is not exactly blameless in this matter, telling the world that he’s going to set the dogs on one man simply because of the front page of The Sun. It is simply not fair or equitable!

If you are looking to blame people for this crisis you will have a long list as there are many people who jumped on this band wagon and many other people who didn’t stop it rolling. The FSA is the government body responsible for managing financial institutions and they were asleep at the wheel. I certainly didn’t hear any of the political parties shouting that there needed to be reform and controls when things were good, and now they’re clamoring for punitive measures against those they were supposed to guide. It’s pathetic! Have the courage to say we screwed up. In a witch hunt everybody’s glad to be burning their neighbors because it keeps other neighbors from looking their way and it’s no different with this matter.

If I were Sir Fred when Gordon Brown asks him to give up his pension my response would be “you first.”