Share it

Follow me on Twitter!

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wrapping Up An Abysmal Year With A List Of Valuable Don't-Do's

Well, here I go jumping on the end-of-the-year-blog-bandwagon, with an attempt to point out some commonly-made errors, failings and mistakes in life, find what wisdom there may be in avoiding those mistakes, and then share that wisdom with you, in the form of things that YOU can do to avoid these mistakes. Like the rest of The Book On Crazy, if the shoe fits, wear it, and if you don't like the sauce, then eat somewhere else - it really makes no difference to me whatsoever.

There is one thing that I do differently than many other essayists, in that I tend to move from the broad to the specific, as opposed to doing things the other way around, so don't expect a string of anecdotes about how I screwed up this or that in the various areas of my life with some large moral-on-a-two-by-four to strike you in the dome at the end of the piece - this isn't about me - it's about you. And in my piece, the two by fours all come at the beginning, and they hit you loud and proud, right where you do your best thinking. Not the bathroom - the forehead. To wit, my five DON'T-DO'S for a better New Year, based on rough-hewn personal experience and observation, and learned, as I always learn things, the hard way. Shared with love.

1) Don't be careless with the feelings of the people that you love, unless you really don't want those people in your life. This is a big, important one, and that is why it's first. Never assume that your feelings are known, and don't tell - wherever possible, show those you love how you feel about them. In good times or bad, this one will carry you far. Admittedly, it is easier to live this one in good times than in bad times, but the importance of living your love honestly cannot be overstated. Give your love to the people you love in boundless measure - it is the one investment that always returns a worthwhile yield. Give people your worst, and they won't necessarily stick around for the rest of the show.

2) Don't screw with the IRS. If you do one thing right paperwork-wise in the course of your year, make absolutely certain that you file your tax returns on time, and pay your taxes when they are due. The IRS WILL find you, and they have the both the longest memory and the largest enforcement budget of any branch of Government. It is not a question of IF they will find you, it is a matter of WHEN, and I can guarantee you that the WHEN will occur when you are least prepared to meet their demands. If you earn, file. If you owe, pay. If you can't pay, work out an arrangement and then honor your arrangement. The IRS is very agreeable if you come to them. If they have to come looking for you, they are far less agreeable, and the Revenue Officer can make your life a literal Hell on Earth, for a decade of your life after you become fully compliant, so the time to get those tax returns filed if you are delinquent is YESTERDAY.

3) Don't neglect your health. This applies whether you are eighteen or eighty-eight. See the doctor, get checkups, screenings (including the uncomfortable ones that involve looking up the southern-most end of your digestive organs), take preventive medications as prescribed, and of perhaps greatest importance, eat sensibly and get regular exercise at least three times a week. If you enjoy the gift of life on Earth, and care to enjoy it for a few more years, then you have to do your part, and once you take ill, the doctors and nurses can only do so much to retrieve your health from the abyss. And once you're dead, well, none of us really knows what happens at that point, so why take a chance? Enjoy every sandwich, as Warren Zevon said before HE shuffled off this mortal coil - but make sure it's a low-fat protein on a whole-grain bread, with some greens and a little light mayo - and skip the cheese. It's empty calories, and doesn't add much flavor.

4) Don't overdrink/overmedicate. This one goes hand-in-hand with #3, but is deserving of it's own place on the list because it is a problem for so many folks, especially around holiday time. Imbibe if imbibing is part of your celebratory tradition, but give the car keys to a sober friend, and if you find yourself imbibing alone, or imbibing every night, or imbibing with faceless strangers in nameless bars, then, my friend, you have a problem that is beyond the scope of this list. Same thing for substances of abuse - if it's habitual, and if you're doing it to put distance between you and your problems, then it's probably risen to the level of a problem of it's own, and you need and deserve professional help. Check your local community - there are many resources available through churches, synagogues and community centers for people facing problems of addiction and dependence. You do NOT have to go through this alone, and getting clean does NOT have to be painful, degrading or stigmatizing.

5) Don't forget to laugh. Life is funny. Mistakes are funny - whether they are our own or others. Cultivate a robust sense of humor about yourself and your experiences, and when things go wrong, don't lose it - just laugh. Let your laughter challenge the cosmos to do better if it intends to frustrate and thwart your efforts. Life is, if we play the game correctly, a long ride, and laughing-through-the-snow is a much better way to go than crying-in-the-chapel. There is also a curious reaction from other people in your life when you are going through a rough spot - if you are able to keep your sense of humor and laugh about the things that vex you, others in your life will rally to your cause, but someone who cries and whines and whinges constantly, well, people just get tired of all that drama.

I don't have all the answers. I don't even know any of the questions for certain, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that if you use these five don't-do's as guideposts, you may not dodge every bullet, but you'll dodge a fair number of them, and even those that find you won't do nearly the damage that you might have otherwise incurred.

Sincere wishes for a sweet and juicy New Year filled with hopes, dreams and desires realized. Oh yeah - and don't forget to vote in 2012. If you're not part of the process, then you're part of the problem. I don't care who you vote for, or against, just vote.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Georgia Executed Troy Davis, an Innocent Man

Despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, at the end of the line, our system of justice let down Troy Davis, and he was executed by the State of Georgia last evening.

Since 1976 - a time span of 35 years, The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles has only granted clemency to a condemned person SEVEN TIMES. In that same time period, Georgia has killed 51 people. Only in four cases were the victims of these executed people African American, and in all four of those cases, the accused was also African American. The remaining 47 cases were all cases with white victims. In 35 years, no white person in Georgia has ever received the death penalty for a crime against a person of color.**

I am sorry for the life of Mark Allen MacPhail, the White off-duty cop who lost his life that night in Savannah back in 1989. I pray for him, and for his family, that they can find peace, healing and forgiveness for the person who gunned down their loved one in cold blood. But it is as clear as day that the person responsible was NOT Troy Davis. I also pray for Troy Davis, and for HIS family, that they too can find peace, healing and forgiveness. I pray that the search for MacPhail's REAL murderer continues, so that justice can be served.

I pray for the rest of us - the people of conscience who are upset at this travesty, these sham clemency hearings, and the racially-biased Georgia State system that clearly values a White life above a Black one. I pray that we use our outrage as a tool for social change - that we lobby our legislature for change, that we continue to make our voices heard on this issue, and that we do not rest until Georgia's Death Penalty is abolished. We face an uphill battle. Georgia is Red and conservative to the point of being politically backward. Still, the fact that the fight will not be easy does not excuse us from joining the battle. The soul of Troy Davis, and those who went before him, and who will follow behind him, requires that we do nothing less.

I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty, no matter the circumstances surrounding the crime. for three reasons: 1) It is a deterrent to no one except the person the State kills; 2) As a "final solution" there is no opportunity to revisit a conviction and sentence, even if thirty years after conviction, new exculpatory evidence should come forth; and 3) Endless days and nights of no liberty and the absence of any freedom - especially in Georgia's para-military correctional system, is a far more onerous punishment - and over the long haul actually costs the taxpayers LESS than State-sanctioned murder.

Finally, If I were a Black family with ANY family member who is entangled in the arms of the justice machine, especially if they are currently a youthful offender or early in their criminal career, I would get the hell out of Georgia as quickly as possible. If circumstance conspires to make one a suspect in a capital crime (and these things happen - history is FULL of innocent people being railroaded for crimes in which they had no participation), and one doesn't have the luxury of superb legal representation, a Black accused really doesn't stand a chance in Georgia. The deck is stacked, and a Black defendant will in all likelihood not receive fair treatment. That is an endlessly sad reality, but until it can be corrected, it is more important that Black families move swiftly to protect their youthful offenders from a potential disaster.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Check Your Security. Change Your Passwords. Hackers ARE After You.

Ladies and Gentlemen, those of you who know me personally know that when I was gainfully employed I was an information technology professional. Many of you may not know that I sat for and passed the CISSP examination. CISSP stands for Certified Information Systems Security Professional, a six-hour-long, grueling adaptive examination that tests your knowledge of the International Security Consortium's common body of knowledge, consisting of ten "security domains" - everything from encryption technologies to premises security. It is quite similar to what an accountant goes through in becoming a CPA. In earning this credential, I learned a great deal about information security. Maintaining the confidentiality, integrity and availability of critical data is at the heart of any program of information security. Though the task sounds daunting, most of creating a secure computing environment, including creating one right in your own home, can be achieved with a few simple, regular activities.

Why, you ask, am I bringing this up in a Blogspot posting? The answer is simple - today, two things happened that pointed out to me the need for a primer on securing information in the home environment.

The first thing that came to my attention was the case described in this link, where a suburban family was hacked, harassed, emotionally tortured and psychologically abused at the hands of a mad-man neighbor, who started his campaign of terror by hacking into this family's wireless internet router.

The second thing that came to my attention started tonight with a chat request from an old, dear friend of mine from a long time ago, who now finds himself in the grips of near madness, completely disabled and psychosocially destroyed by a relentless campaign of cyber-stalking, harassment, spoofing (someone pretending to be the target, and then using the target's email account and even their internet circuit to send threatening or abusive emails to people in positions of power, such as Governmental officials, celebrities, and the like). In this case, my friend's current state of affairs was triggered when a major Internet web site was hacked and confidential user account data (usernames and passwords) were stolen by the perpetrators, who then filtered through their stolen booty, found my friend's credentials, tracked that information to his actual place of residence, and forged a campaign of creating misery in the life of a total stranger, for no good reason other than that they had access and opportunity.

We are all potentially subject to exactly the same type of attacks as these two people have suffered. Let me say that again. We are all potentially subject to exactly the same type of attacks as these two people have suffered. Most of us have WiFi routers in our homes, and far too few of us have taken the time to correctly configure all the levels of security that are available to thwart an intrusion by a determined cyber-criminal. Wireless routers all have at least three layers of security available - password protection, SSID Broadcasts, and MAC address filtering, and to create even a minimally secure wirelss router configuration, it is necessary that you configure all three of these elements. Doing so is quite simple, as you will see in the following paragraphs.

Password Protection. Everyone's wireless router comes with a password - the default password set by the manufacturer. In far too many cases, users leave the default password in place, and this is a hacker's delight, because lists of manufacturer's default passwords can be found all over the internet, and getting access to your "password protected" internet circuit is as simple as picking the signal out of the sky, entering that well-known default password, and Voila! Your intruder is now living on your network, sucking down your bandwidth (and slowing down YOUR legitimate surfing - ever wonder why your Netflix movie crapped out in the middle of a stream?), doing illegal things from YOUR electronic address (such as music file sharing, illegal downloads of copyrighted materials, and even creating and sharing repositories of pornographic/child pornographic materials - all issuing from YOUR supposedly "secure" WiFi router. While they're there, many hackers install "root kits" on visible computers in your network, thus ensuring themselves a "back door" into your network so they can come and go at will. The best and most effective way to prevent this scenario from becoming YOUR personal nightmare? Change your WiFi router's default password as soon as you install it. Make the new password something very secure - do not use your last name, your dog's name, or anything that anyone who knows even a little bit about you could easily guess. Instead, try taking a favorite poem or song, and take the first letter of each word in the first line of the song, make every other letter a Capital letter, and then, at the end of that string of seemingly meaningless letters, put in a few meaningless numbers and a couple of symbols. For example, if my favorite song was "Yesterday" by the Beatles, I might choose a router password of "YaMtSsFa" to which I could add 96471 for my numbers and !%# for my symbols. So, my new, more secure router password would be "YaMtSsFa96741!#%" - definitely a tougher password to guess outright, and one that would stand up to a more aggressive attempt to hack it for quite some time - which adds another level of security, because the garden variety hacker likes to pick the low-hanging fruit. If your wireless router is locked down with a very secure password like the one we've created in the example above, most casual hackers will grow weary after a few attempts at guessing it, and will move on to another, easier target.

Most routers allow you to select the TYPE of password security you want to implement. You should always select WPA2 if it is available (and if it is not available, you may want to upgrade your wireless router to a more contemporary model as lesser password protocols are easier to crack with a brute-force or dictionary attack). In short, if you enable WPA2, and take care to select a password that is composed of a combination of 13 to 16 upper and lower-case letters,, numbers and symbols, none of which spell out well-known words or phrases that someone who knows you might easily guess, your wireless password should be virtually hack-proof by all but the most sophisticated attempts.

Lastly, it is wisest to revisit and chance that router password every so often. I change mine when I change the filters in my HVAC system, which ends up being every two-to-three months.

SSID Broadcasts. Every contemporary wireless router gives you the option to disable SSID Broadcasts, and it is a very good idea to do so - checking the box to disable SSID broadcasts means that, when using your PC or Mac or iPad to "browse" for a network to which to connect, you won't "see" your target network listed - instead, knowing it is there but not broadcasting it's presence, you will simply type in the name of your router's configured circuit, and as long as you have the correct access password (and your client machine;s MAC address is on the router's "whitelist"(more about that in the next paragraph), bingo! You;re in and surfing safely (but intruders are denied at the door, just like a nerd in a cheap suit at Studio 54 back in 1978! So, for purposes of example, let's say I rename my Linksys router's default wireless circuit "RUSTYTROMBONE". I make the change on the configuration pages of my router, change my default password from "admin" to "YaMtSsFa96741!#%" and save the changes to the router. After the router reboots, when I browse with my computer to find a wireless network to which to connect, I won't SEE "RUSTYTROMBONE" listed out there in the ether - but I CAN clicka box, MANUALLY enter the name "RUSTYTROMBONE" in the target wireless circuit box, click "OK" and, after entering the correct password of "YaMtSsFa96741!#%", our computer is now successfully connected, provided that the MAC address of the computer in question is on the router's internal list of "approved" machines allowed to use this particular wireless circuit.

WHAT IS A MAC ADDRESS? I DON'T EVEN HAVE A MAC! In this case, MAC stands not for Macintosh, but for Media Access Control. The Media Access Control address, or MAC Address, is a unique identifier assigned to network interfaces for communications on the physical network segment. Simply put, the MAC address is like your computer's street address, if you consider that the network is the virtual "Street" on which the computer lives. Each Ethernet adapter in a computer, even wireless ethernet adapters, all have their own unique MAC address, and your wireless router has the ability to view that address at the time of the connection request, and then verify it against a table of authorized addresses that you have configured inside the router. If the requesting computer has a MAC address that IS on the list, then the connection is permitted, an IP address is assigned to the computer, and bingo, you're on the internet. If the computer requesting a connection does NOT have a valid MAC address, then the connection request is NOT granted by the router, and that requesting computer is deemed persona non grata - another attempt by some miscreant with whatever ill intentions he or she may have, has been successfully turned away at the door.

HOW DO I FIND THE MAC ADDRESS FOR MY COMPUTERS AND OTHER DEVICES? This can be simple. Most new computing devices have a label on the displaying the WiFi MAC Address (and it usually looks something like this 00:0B:CF:09:65:11 or 00 0B CF 09 65 11), and you can go to the Security tb on your router's configuration page, and then the Mac Address FIltering tab, where you will see a blank table, which you can populate with the MAC addresses for each device that you want to have wireless access to your network. On some newer routers, you can even configure the first two steps (changing the default password, and disabling SSID broadcasts), leave MAC Address filtering turned OFF, and then connect each wireless device to your network. Then, with all of your wireless devices connected, get in to your router's Security configuration tab, click on MAC Address Filtering, and lo and behold, you'll see a button that reads something like "Use current clients" which, when clicked, will populate that table with the MAC addresses of everything on your network. Once that happens, you can click the button to turn ON MAC address filtering, and all the addresses will be in-place - and you didn't have to type a thing!

There you have it - three relatively simple steps you can take that can potentially eliminate the ability of a data-thief to piggyback on your network's bandwidth - or worse, to actually cause you real damage.

If you want to undertake these changes and need assistance, or if you have questions, please get in touch - I'm always delighted to assist someone in making their home network more secure.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SRS iWOW 3D: Amazing Audio From Ipod/Iphone/Ipad

Today I was fortunate enough to receive an iWOW 3D adaptor today from SRS labs to evaluate as a member of the SRS Fan Advisory Board (a volunteer band of ardent music and technology geek enthusiasts who have endeavored to work with the good folks at SRS to evaluate their new and emerging technologies to see how they measure up and how they might be improved).

I immediately patched it into my Ipod (loved seeing the big white button light up) cranked up Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville, an album I know like the back of my hand, and listened to the first cut, 6'1". I immediately noticed a beautiful difference throughout the sound spectrum due to the iWOW 3D. Highs were crisper, midrange was fatter and more well-balanced and the bottom was tight, low and full, but without muddiness or any loss of clarity. I was listening through a pair of Sony MDR-NC6 Noise Canceling Headphones, with the noise canceling circuitry turned off, for a valid comparison.

After the song finished, I repeated my test listen, same song, but with the iWOW 3D turned off, and I couldn't get through the song - I kept turning the iWOW 3D back on - it just sounded too good through the iWOW 3D and too - wanting - without it!!! I then re-ran my test listen again, this time using the stock Ipod-supplied earbuds, and while the sound was not as mind-rockingly fantastic as it was through the sony cans, it was STILL far and away a thousand times better than the same song with the iWOW 3D circuitry turned off.

Next I tried another artist I am very familiar with - Steely Dan - and another album I know well - Aja, and the cut I chose was Black Cow - about as different a choice from LIz Phair as you can get. Again, through both sets of headphones, the iWOW 3D did not fail to amaze and delight, adding musical value and noted of accord, reinvigorating a tune I thought I knew everything about - for the first time, I could hear fingerwork on the bass guitar fretboard in the quieter places (and that is something I loved about analog music and have long missed in digital music: the warmth and live ambience of the analog experience.

The iWOW 3D added depth and enhanced the listening experience in unexpectedly pleasurable ways. In short, I cannot wait to revisit the rest of my music library one delicious track at a time. At a suggested retail price of $69.99 (and with bargains to be found all over the internet) this is a device that belongs in the toolbox of any serious music fan.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Read: Edges by Lena Roy

Edges, by Lena Roy, is an astounding story of two souls intertwined.

Edges presents an amazing story of the journey of two souls, bound together in addiction and recovery, set in both Moab, Utah, and New York City. It is simply a must-read and you will love it. I enjoyed the book as a recovering person, as a man, as a former NYC person, as a former youth on the run from my problems, as someone who has always wanted to see the beauty of Moab, UT, but has never had the opportunity to do so, and as a human being - this work moved me on every level.

Bravo to Ms. Roy for a brilliant first work. I look forward to many more rich, vibrant characterizations and novels going forward.

Keywords: Addiction, Grief, Love, Moab, New York City, Recovery, Redemption

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I love my fellow faggots, and I despise bullies.

I was bullied through 5th and 6th grades, back when being a "faggot" meant you acted different than the other kids, not that you had a gender difference or a sexual preference for members of the same sex. I was a pre-pubescent "faggot" who got his ass kicked every day by bullies, until my mother moved me to a private school, where I grew large enough to defend myself. I pray that these LGBT boys and girls find the strength and courage to stand up to bullies and defend themselves, and grow to become the fine and beautiful, fulfilled adults they are meant to be.

If you are a parent, don't teach your children tolerance. Instead, teach them appreciation - appreciation for the differences we share and the beauty of each person's uniqueness. Teach them to avoid labels and learn about individuals, and not to judge people, unless they like what they find when they get to know someone. And that old saw about "If you can't say anything nice, dont say anything at all."? Well, it's still pretty good advice.

Lastly, if you encounter a bully, confront them, head on, and full force. Let them know, without question, that you dont know what happens in their home, and you don't particularly care (and even if you do, you can't do much about it unless you know the bully is an abuse victim, and then your actions are limited to getting the authorities involved) - you are NOT going to sit back and watch them bully your child - and that you will do EVERYTHING you can to protect your kid and see them punished, right up to getting them expelled from the school/scout troop/Brownie Group/Hap-Ki-Do class, or whatever. Work with the leaders of any group that your children are involved in and make sure they share your values - and if they don't, then do not allow your child to participate - find another group, or, if necessary, another school. My mother was a waitress in a diner, and managed to put two boys into Rutgers Prep for two years on tips and sacrifices (for the which I will ALWAYS remain grateful - I'd probably be Dexter by now if it hadn't been for Rutgers Prep and the love of my grandmother, Hazel).

When your child complains of being victimized or targeted, you should listen and take it seriously - do not minimize, deescalate or, worst, blame your child! How often do frazzled parents with too much on already full plates turn to tortured children and say "Well, you must be doing SOMETHING to bring this on yourself! These people must be picking on you for a reason!"

That is true. They ARE doing it specifically to particular children for a reason: Bullied children are picked on because they are different - they look different, act different, present differently, speak differently, walk differently, dress differently, THINK differently! The same things that make us quirky folk with our own aesthetic serve only to make us punching bags as children. Don't let your kid be a punching bag.

And for God's sake, if your kid is lesbian, gay, bi, transgendered, strange, or just loves musical theater a little way too much and has a shoe fetish - whatever your child is, WHOMEVER you child is as a person, please do all you can to give that small person all the love, support, and respect that you can muster. This is the armor that will protect them from a world that is not so nice to those who choose a different path.

much love & big hugs,