Monthly Archives: December 2016

Trump’s first triumph

One of the many thoughts I composed in my head but never got around to posting was a reaction to the election of Donald Trump.  An optimistic reaction, mixing tongue-in-cheek (to wind up some – probably most – readers), benefit of the doubt, and a few realistic hopes for how his presidency might lead, intentionally or otherwise, to real improvement in the world.

It’s too late for that now.  He’s made so many appointments I’d have to dig into them before taking a Panglossian view on his rhetoric about surrounding himself with the best people.  He still has the outsider’s potential advantage that, if he chooses, he can better afford to stand up to Vested Interests – including those who control purse-strings for US politicians of both parties – than his predecessors in modern times.

On one matter of foreign policy he’s sent a message which is both clear and constructive.  He is not in favour of warmongering around the world where his country has no business.  Like provoking civil war and supporting terrorist and rebel groups on a my enemy’s enemy basis.  The most obvious potential beneficiary of that is Syria, where the hope and expectation of Western intervention launched and subsequently fuelled a devastating civil war.

Trump gets elected, and after just a couple of weeks the rebels in Aleppo finally cut their losses.  Another couple of weeks and we get a ceasefire backed by Russia and Turkey, and for the first time the Western-backed rebels seem to have dropped their show-stopper precondition that Assad and his government be booted out.

Coincidence?  Even if we attribute Aleppo to pure military victory, the change in the rebels’ stance is surely not unconnected with Trump’s election.  Trump has sent them a clear signal that the leading warmongers in the West – like John McCain in the US or Andrew Mitchell in the UK – won’t persuade our governments to step up military involvement.

Of course that doesn’t mean peace: it remains to be seen to what extent that can happen, and indeed whether Russia and Turkey can make a better job of it than the West’s interventions in other countries (above all Iraq).  The key point right now is that the US – and by extension the West – no longer stands in the way of peace.

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A little secret

Yahoo admits to a billion customer records being compromised.  The numbers are staggering, but the news of the exploit is mundane.

Doubtless the raw numbers are very largely inactive accounts.  People who long-since stopped using Yahoo accounts.  People who signed up with some other company that subsequently got borged by Yahoo.  People who once signed up to access some service but never used the accounts.   Etcetera.  Just as with social media numbers (even just the number of followers of this humble blog), to be taken with a big pinch of salt.

Nevertheless, that’s a billion signups.  Allowing for fakes and duplicates, that might be a nine-digit number of real people who once answered security questions.  That’s a bunch of answers that, unlike passwords, travel with the user across multiple services, not just online but also those you might access by other means such as the ‘phone or even face-to-face.  The name of your first pet or your primary school are no more secure than the classic mother’s maiden name.

And now a billion such records have leaked.  Give or take: we don’t know how many users ever were genuine, nor how many such questions and answers each genuine user disclosed.

So what does it mean if you’re one of the billion?  If someone wants to steal your identity, your security questions and answers have passed from the realm of something they have to research to something easily automated.  Well, we don’t know that for certain, but it’s certainly a risk that can no longer be dismissed.

You’d better change your security questions everywhere that matters.  What do you mean, you can’t remember which questions you signed up to Yahoo with twenty years ago?  Don’t tell me you can’t change the city of your birth, or the initials of your first lover.  Oh dear [shakes head].

And even if you’re not one of the billion, you may already have started to get the phishing emails purporting to be from yahoo (or others) about changing passwords.

I’ve argued here before that security questions are not fit for purpose.  Perhaps the Yahoo leak might help persuade the world to stop using them for things that matter!

A lesson from Castro

With Castro dead, the world can draw another line under the Cold War.  I have no intention of trying to comment on his life: a complex subject on which I have nothing really to say.

But the reporting of his death reveals an interesting split, between those who revered (or at least respected) him and mourn his passing, and those who hated him and danced on his grave.  The former being Cubans in Cuba, the latter being Cubans in Miami.  Plus a handful of  global Cold Warriors on either side, who will dismiss the other side with a quasi-religious fervour.

Could that split between a home population and expats in the West be the exact same phenomenon that led us into fighting and provoking so many disastrous wars, particularly in the middle-east, in recent years?  At various times, our media have presented us with articulate expats from countries we’ve openly invaded (like Iraq and Libya) or meddled more quietly in and stirred with agents provocateurs (like Syria), in support of our campaigns.  Those would be their countries’ equivalent to the Miami Cubans dancing on Castro’s grave.  And that’s where our narratives of our wars come from: when our powers-that-be want war, they can find some extreme but articulate expats and present them as the voice of ordinary people.  Only once the die is cast do some in our media start to question dodgy dossiers and claims.

New Toy

Damn, I seem to be blogging so rarely I might as well not be here.  I guess too much of what I have to say is being said elsewhere, or falling victim to can’t be arsed syndrome.

So a little domestic event.  Today I have taken delivery of a shiny new fridge-freezer, to replace the one bought in 2005 (when I moved from a furnished to an unfurnished apartment) and which has been malfunctioning increasingly badly.  Of late the temperature regulator was completely dead and the pump on full blast 24/7 regardless of settings, so it would ice up within a week of defrosting, and everything was too cold.

[really boring paragraph you probably want to skip] Unusually (for me), I went into Currys in person to order the new one rather than order online.  That’s because it has to fit under a shelf at 144 cm above the floor, and I wanted to see and measure one described as 143cm tall – which is the model I eventually bought.  It fits nicely in the space, and like the old one, is low enough to use the top as my spice rack.  The new one has slightly more fridge and less freezer space than the old one: a 60/40 split rather than 50/50 heightwise.  The biggest drawback in the old one (back when it worked properly) was a shortage of even reasonably high shelf space in the fridge, which would tend to get more than a bit overfilled after a big shop.  Now I’ll have space to stand things up easily, as well as a useful extra shelf in the door.  As for the freezer, I think I can live with a little less space.  The main difference is that the top drawer (of three) is a more a tray, and will do nicely for the wine cooler sleeve, icecubes, and miscellaneous small things.

Seeing the new one in action, I’m struck by two things.  One, it’s blissfully quiet, even compared to a well-behaved older model.  Two, the light inside is seriously cold: clearly a LED.  I guess that’s the march of technology, and makes it not entirely a bad thing I had to replace the old one.

One more observation.  In researching my options for replacing the old one, I saw all refrigeration equipment on sale today is advertised as both CFC-free and HFC-free.  Does that mean the recent treaty on HFCs was just hot air, with the industry having long-since left them behind anyway?