Virgin America

I flew Virgin Atlantic for the first time recently, for a day trip to San Francisco. I enjoyed it. I can’t remember the last time I actually enjoyed getting on a plane.

The first really standout bit was when the Seattle ground folks put on music and a name that song contest. They handed out free drink tickets for each winner, and a second free drink for singing along through the PA. I was initially a little skeptical — I really wanted some peace and quiet — but it’s better than airport CNN. They seemed to be having a genuinely good time, and they had me smiling by the time I got on the plane.

On the way home, I splurged for a $50 upgrade, figuring that I needed a drink or three, and some food wouldn’t hurt either. The seat was comfy, and the flight attendant was friendly, conversational and appeared to be enjoying himself.

If I lived in San Francisco (their US hub) I’d be a convert. As is, I’ll likely fly them when I can.

If I was one of those pedantic bloggers who tried to tie everything back to the blog title, I’d talk about the value of the unexpected. But really, give them a chance if you’re headed on a route they fly.

Chaos in the Airports! Baa! Baa!

TSA Badges.jpg
Some days the snark just writes itself:

The group that created Smokey Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog has a new potential icon: Stephanie the airport screener.

A $1.3 million ad campaign launched this month teams the Ad Council and the Transportation Security Administration trying to change behavior of passengers who no longer automatically accept post-Sept. 11 airport security procedures. The public relations push explains the terrorist threat and the reasons behind annoyances at checkpoints.

A passenger focus group conducted for TSA by New York City business consulting firm Blue Lime found that “unquestioning compliance has diminished.” Passengers say they are more afraid of missing their flight than they are of an airplane being attacked, the 73-page Blue Lime report found. (“TSA ads aim to get fliers on board with security measures,” USA Today)

Stephanie Naar has been in the news before, as part of the TSA’s wasting our money on jackboots badges. Not sure (yet) if the image is her. I’ll snap a pic if I see the ad.

PS to TSA: there’s a good reason McGruff and Smokey were animated.

Photo by Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty. Races purely coincidental.

Travel Chaos

NARA (National Archives) published notice in the Federal Register on October 27, 2008, of TSA’s submission to them (see Schedule Pending #3) of a proposed Records Schedule for Secure Flight Program. The actual Proposed Schedule was not published in the Register, only notice that you can request it and file comments on whether NARA should approve it. The 30 day window to request from NARA a copy of this proposed Records Schedule, along with NARA’s associated appraisal reports, closes November 26. This can be done easily via email – see my request below. After providing a requester with these documents, NARA must wait 30 days for the requester to file comments – and to take all comments into account prior to deciding whether to approve the schedule. Destruction of records requires the approval by NARA of a Records Schedule – see 44 U.S.C. Chapter 33 Disposal of Records. Presumably TSA wouldn’t start collecting domestic airline passenger records under Secure Flight, for program testing purposes or otherwise, without the ability to legally destroy them.

Making a request to NARA for TSA’s Secure Flight Records Schedule, and participating in the comment process, sends a message to NARA that the public is interested and concerned about TSA building files on the travel history of ordinary Americans. To make this request, cut and paste this into an email…

If you don’t want the government building a database of the travel history of innocent Americans, take a minute to visit Papers, please and send in a request.

Crime in Barcelona

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While having a wonderful time in Barcelona, I took the metro a fair amount. Over the course of 8 days, I saw 2 turnstile jumpers, (40€ fine) 3 smokers (30€ fine) and didn’t see as one friend got pick-pocketed (reported fine, one beating).

So which crime annoyed me most? The apparently worthless invasion of privacy.

There were cameras everywhere. They seemed to have no deterrent effect whatsoever. Now, maybe crime was really rampant before they put the cameras in. Maybe they’re being used to track down criminals. It’s hard to judge. But my Catalan friends say that the crime has been like this for a long time.

Someone should come up with a pithy quip about those who trade privacy for a little promised security.

Photo: Amlwch to magor.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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There have been a couple of interesting stories over the last week that I wanted to link together.

Verizon Employees Snoop on Obama’s Cellphone Records (followed shortly by “Verizon fires workers over Obama cell phone records breach“) and “4 more Ohio officials punished in ‘Joe’ data search.”

There’s a couple of things happening here. The first is that everyone who works in an organization with lots of personal data knows that snooping has gone on forever. But organizations are changing their approach. They
are now starting to audit and address that snooping.

The second thing is no one seems all that surprised. Companies have been hiding the problem, and when they own up to it, their customers don’t all quit en masse. (It might seem hard to stop having an Ohio drivers license, but then, Joe’s already proven you can get by without Ohio licenses.)

We actually saw something similar in the NSA wiretapping case. Much of what we’ve learned about what happened has come from insiders stepping forward to say that it was wrong. They’ve given information to journalists so that we can have an informed conversation, because in their professional judgement, the terrorists already knew we were spying on them.

So I see this as a very positive new school step. We’re talking about a problem. The sky isn’t falling. It turns out that for some things, the watchmen watch each other.

Now, that’s not to say we should rely on them to do so. But it’s an interesting phenomenon, and one we should look to include in system design. That’s often really tough, because pointing out mis-behavior can seem like a “betrayal. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, we should just do so with a full understanding of how hard it is to change human nature.

Photo by Zog the Frogman.

Tidying up Art

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In “Tidying up Art” Ursus Wehrli tells the TED audience about not only how to tidy up art, but has a great example of how apparently simple instructions can very quickly lead chaos to emerge.

And it’s pretty darn funny after the audience doesn’t know how to respond to his first couple of jokes.

Terrifying Financial Blacklists Falling Down

There’s a list, maintained by the UN security council, of people who can’t have their money. Once you’re on the list, there’s no way to get off.

The global blacklisting system for financiers of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups is at risk of collapse, undermined by legal challenges and waning political support in many countries, according to counterterrorism officials in Europe and the United States.

In September, the European Court of Justice threw the future of the United Nations’ sanctions program against al-Qaeda and the Taliban into doubt when it declared the blacklist violated the “fundamental rights” of those targeted. The Luxembourg-based court said the list lacked accountability and made it almost impossible for people to challenge their inclusion.

See “Terrorism Financing Blacklists At Risk” in the Washington Post.

Ephemeral Anniversary

Yesterday, Nov 17, was the sesquicentenary of the zero-date of the American Ephemeris. I meant to write, but got distracted. Astronomical ephemeris counts forward from this date.

That particular date was picked because it was (approximately) Julian Day 1,000,000, but given calendar shifts and all, one could argue for other zero dates as well. The important thing is to pick one.

There are some who think that this would be a better date to use as a zero-time computer timekeeping than what most of us use presently. It has the advantages that almost all of the Julian/Gregorian calendar skew comes after this (Russia being the major exception) and far enough back that nearly all time-and-date calculations you need to do with quick math can therefore be just adding and subtracting. And it has a nice scientific tie-in.

Other common zero-dates are 1 Jan 1904 (picked because if you pick this date, you can calculate all the way to 2100 assuming that leap years are every four years), and 1 Jan 1970 (picked because this was the last day that The Beatles recorded music in Abbey Road studios — actually, their last date was Jan 4, but close enough).

Diverse Preferences for Privacy

A Wide Diversity of Consumer Attitudes about Online Privacy shows this picture of Flickr users setting privacy preferences: green is public (default) and red is private.


I hope Flickr shares some of the underlying data. I don’t know what anyone would do with it, and there’s two ways to find out. One is to talk, the other is to release the data. (For privacy reasons, coded to a broad anonymity set, like the zip code in the US, or groups of postal codes elsewhere.)

The Twain Meeting

The twain meeting

Some time ago, was on an extended stay in Tokyo for work. When one is living there, there are things one must do, like make an effort to live up to being a henna gaijin.

I must disagree with those who translate that as “strange foreigner.” The proper translation is “crazy foreigner.” I’d never heard henna softened to strange before visiting Maiyim-Baron-sama’s web site.

One of my co-workers there was an American chap who spent at least part of his childhood on Okinawa, married a Japanese woman, and was living permanently there. He helped greatly in my craziness.

The term isn’t precisely an insult, and it isn’t precisely a compliment. If you came to lunch and two Japanese on extended stay were discussing Marlowe, Sheridan, and The Great Vowel Shift in their comic stereotypically bad accents, you’d see a bit of what henna gaijin means. Being a henna gaijin is a bit like being a dancing bear. The people watching you throw yourself into their culture are amused, a bit admiring, a bit repulsed, and a bit piteous that you might think enough you could succeed at any degree of assimilation.

It’s harder for a Brit to be a henna gaijin than an American because part of the craziness is the things you get wrong. Brits won’t get into the wrong side of the car or look the wrong way when crossing a street. Having to do a right-left shift along with everything else adds to the dancing-bear-ness of being a henna gaijin. Having to re-learn to read and write is also a lot of it.

However, I knew my place and threw myself into the craziness aspects. Since it’s impossible to blend in, I dressed to stand out. It was winter, so I wore a long black coat and a white silk aviator’s scarf. I came in to work in the morning with a breakfast of sushi rolls and heated cans of oolong tea (which I used as hand-warmers in my coat pockets, having left my gloves back in New England). I’d go do traditional things natives never did, such as go to the Kabuki theatre. I’d sign my name in a mix of kanji and (shock horror) hiragana.

Most importantly, I’d point out other things that were crazy. I would playfully suggest that actually “gaijin” means “barbarian.” No, no, no, no, they’d insist. I’d be amused, because it isn’t true, but the disdain gaijin get makes it closer to barbarian than a culture that has no irony is comfortable with. Brits will find themselves asking forgiveness for ever suggesting Yanks don’t do irony. Japan is an irony-free zone and when you forget this you must follow through or cause your hosts to lose face. Do not say anything like, “Oh, that sounds the the perfect way to spend a Sunday” because you will be spending your Sunday in precisely that way. If you mix irony and natto, you will get a side-spitting tale you can use for the rest of your life.

My fellow henna gaijin and I would refer to each other as firstname-kun and our colleagues as lastname-san, partially for effect (the ostentatious use of -kun) but also because gaijin call each other by their given names rather than surnames. How henna.

I also insisted that *I* was the Easterner, and they were the Westerners. My proof was simple. What direction did I go in when I came to Tokyo? East. And what direction did they go in when they went to Boston? West. Therefore, while Japan may be the land of the rising sun, that’s because it’s in the far west rather than the far east. If it weren’t in the west, the sun couldn’t rise in the east. If it were in the far east, the sun would rise overhead. QED. (And yes, the sun does rise overhead in Boston. If you don’t believe me, come find out for yourself.)

Henna gaijin.

Actually, Randall, We Tried That

Crypto + 2nd Amendment

And the reason it doesn’t work is that just because you’re allowed to own something doesn’t mean you’re allowed to export it. The use, ownership, production, etc. of crypto was never restricted, only its export. In an Intenet-enabled world, export control brings lots of hair with it, which is why it was important to fight export restrictions. I could go on, but I’ve already ruined an otherwise amusing strip.

SDL Announcements

I’m in Barcelona, where my employer has made three announcements about our Security Development Lifecycle, which you can read about here: “SDL Announcements at TechEd EMEA.”

I’m really excited about all three announcements: they represent an important step forward in helping organizations develop more secure code.

But I’m most excited about the public availability of the SDL Threat Modeling Tool. I’ve been working on this for the last 18 months. A lot of the thinking in “Experiences Threat Modeling at Microsoft” has been made concrete in this new tool, which helps any software engineer threat model.


I’m personally tremendously grateful to Meng Li, Douglas MacIver, Patrick McCuller, Ivan Medvedev and Larry Osterman. Each of them has contributed tremendously to making the tool what it is today. I’m also grateful to the many Microsoft employees who have taken the time to give me feedback, and I look forward to more feedback as more people use the tool.

Public Policy and InfoSec

…Armed with my favorite govie (who is actually the lead on this, I’m just a straphanger), The New School of Information Security (Hi Adam and Andrew), some government policy directives, and the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, I am teaching an Information Security Management and Public Policy class for Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz School.

The more I work with the Masters of Science in Public Policy Management program, the more I’m sold on it. Basically the students do a year on-campus in Pittsburg, then they have the option of staying there or coming to DC. The students who come to DC work a 32-hour week (some do more), 2 night classes, and class for most of Friday. Our information security class fits in as a sector-specific deep-dive, the other one being healthcare (which needs smart public policy people, too).

Which is where we need some help. It’s a little behind the game, but we’re constantly looking for Government agencies, NGOs/NPOs, and contractors who are interested in taking on interns. Even better if you have jobs that don’t have a US citizenship requirement. If you want to be linked up, just drop me a line.

First, thank you! Andrew and I are both tremendously excited to see the New School being used at CMU. If anyone knows of internships to help their students find jobs, please visit “The Guerilla CISO” and let’s help them out?

An early clue to the new direction?

Obama gave his first press conference as President-elect last Saturday. Pundits have noted his humor in responding to the urgent canine matter, but I was struck by a particular phrase used in response to a question regarding whether he’d be moving quickly to fill key cabinet positions:

When we have an announcement about cabinet appointments, we will make them. There is no doubt that I think people want to know who’s going to make up our team.
And I want to move with all deliberate haste, but I want to emphasize “deliberate” as well as “haste.” I’m proud of the choice I made of vice president, partly because we did it right. I’m proud of the choice of chief of staff, because we thought it through.
The emphasized portion is a variation of Earl Warren’s “with all deliberate speed“, as used in the Supreme Court decree implementing their Brown v. Board opinion. Whether Obama used such similar language simply because it evoked a sense of thoughtful urgency and as a constitutional scholar the words would come easily to him, or whether he wanted to subtly signal a soon-to-be renewed White House interest in civil rights is impossible to know. Either way, it was a refreshing hint of erudition.
(I promise not to obsess over every move made by our new Harvard Law Overlord. I offer my silence on the matter of the Sox cap as an example of my forebearance.)