CyberSecurity Done Right

I received an email. It came from TaskRabbit, a company about whom I don’t know much. I used them to get moving help when my containers were delivered and had a really strongly positive impression. Also, they had some heavy-handed product placement in Unbreakable – Kimmy Schmidt, which still was endearing.

While I know little about the company, I know something about their handling of a cybersecurity incident. Here is what they had to say:

Dear Marco,

TaskRabbit is currently investigating a cybersecurity incident. We understand how important your personal information is and are working with an outside cybersecurity firm and law enforcement to determine the specifics. In the meantime the app and the website are offline while our team works on this.

We will be back in contact with you with more information once we have it. As an immediate precaution, if you used the same password on other sites or apps as you did for TaskRabbit, we recommend you change those now.

If you have any questions in the meantime, please reply to this email.

Thank you for your patience while we investigate the issue and for being such an important part of our community.

TaskRabbit Team

Now, the reason I feel comfortable quoting the message is that I can only applaud it. If the content is accurate, TaskRabbit is taking this seriously, is proactive with information, and says it is doing the right things.

Compare that to another company that knew it has lost the information of half the population of the United States of America and didn’t say anything for an extended period of time, while it was “investigating.” Or the other company with which I used to do business, who lost my credit card information (including the CCV it is not supposed to store), leading to a series of charges to the tune of $10,000 on Bing Search and a heavy downgrade in credit rating.

I don’t know. How can we continue pretending that identity theft is a problem for the individual and not for the companies that leaked that information? How can the customer be responsible for fraudulent charges when the gas station didn’t do anything about the skimmer on their premises? Why do we accept that a company hiding a massive data breach can get away claiming oopsies while thousands or even millions of their customers have to worry every day about getting ripped off?

FAQ: Did Jesus Really Save a Gay Couple?

Note: This is an FAQ to the article written here.

What is this claim about Jesus saving a gay couple?

In the Gospels, a story is found of Jesus being approached by a centurion. The centurion is trying to get Jesus to heal his servant, who is back home dying. Jesus rushes to help, but the centurion says that he (Jesus) doesn’t have to go all the way; if he just says the word, the servant will be healed. Jesus marvels at the centurion’s faith and says the servant is healed. And so he was.

Verses, please!

Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10, John 4:46-54

How do the versions of the story differ?

The shortest version of the story is found in Matthew and is basically reported in shorthand above. It ends with an anti-Semitic rant about the grim future of the land of Israel that is missing in the other two versions and is characteristic of Matthew.

The story in Luke is very similar to that in Matthew, except it introduces elders who plead with Jesus on the centurion’s behalf and vouch for him, as he has been generous to the (Jewish) community. Also, while in Matthew Jesus and the centurion talk directly and freely, in Luke the centurion sends friends to talk with Jesus, who though say exactly what the centurion said in Matthew.

In John, the story is modified, to the point that most commentators deny it’s the same miracle. In it, the centurion becomes a royal official, while the servant, the official’s son. Also, the comment on the centurion’s faith turns into a simple statement about the whole household converting. (more…)

Spring Has Sprung! Or Has It? The Math Behind Seasons

Yawn! That’s not my reaction to the title, but to the sleepiness that comes from giving up Lent, eating chocolate (provided at half price by Safeway on Easter Monday), and sleeping in after a sugar rush. Easter, is a Spring holiday – not by chance, but by design: Spring officially starts on the Spring equinox, and Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox (unless bla bla). Since there is one full moon in every 29-something days, you are guaranteed to see Easter happen soon after the official start of Spring.

Yet, because I am a nerd, the first thing that comes to my mind is not Christ, the Lord and Savior returning, it’s not bunnies and chocolate, and it’s not even the painful reminder that the snowboarding season is almost over. In fact, the first thing that comes to my mind about every three months at the change of seasons is, “but the season has long started!”

Yes, all of March is relatively mild, despite the fact the first two thirds are officially winter. It’s the exact same thing for all seasons: June is already hot as all get-go, except maybe in San Francisco and Fairbanks, AK. September is my favorite month, and the hottest in San Francisco – but it’s the hottest there precisely because temperatures dip to its East. And finally, the cruelest joke of all, Christmas is close to the coldest day of the year, but it’s just the beginning of winter.

What’s the deal? Why do we assign some random point about a third of the way into the season as its beginning?

Let’s take the Winter solstice, traditionally falling around the 21st of December. It is the day with the shortest daylight duration. Before it the days were longer, and after it they will be shorter. Since our Earth relies on imported heat from the sun, the shortest daylight should coincide with the least heat. The coldest day of the year should be the Winter solstice!

Things aren’t that quick, since it takes the atmosphere some time to adapt to change, sort of like it’s been caught doing the naughties with the sun and needs to straighten out her dress. But, in fact, at least in Denver, the coldest day of the year is December, 26th, not even a week after the solstice. It is in fact very odd that we consider what should be the exact middle of winter, the beginning. Even when taking into account heat inertia, it makes very little sense to consider the solstice the beginning of the season instead of its middle.

But it’s convenient. The dates of equinoxes and solstices are constant, we need a day to start the seasons, might as well pick something that is somewhat related to them (even if the day picked should be the middle of the season by logic). Generally, it feels like the seasons should align more with the months (all of December, January, and February in winter, all of March, April, and May in spring, etc.), but who cares?

Well, your resident nerd cares. I went and decided I was going to compute when the seasons really begin and how long they really last!

(more…)

My Private Keystone

The previous post I spent dissing the EPIC Pass, but praising its mountains. Vail will always be one of my favorite places on Earth, despite being sick of high prices and breaking-down lifts. Breckenridge will always be my go-to place for a party (waiting for the Plunge!), but I’ll never reveal my secret stashes there, not even if you tortured me with a ski stick (yes, that’s what they were originally called!).

Keystone? Well, Keystone isn’t really much of a secret. The mountain is pretty big, but doesn’t really compare to the other big mountains in Colorado. The infrastructure is good, but the runs a bit on the iffy side. Keystone’s problem, really, is mostly not crowds or cost, but the alternating exposure of the slopes. If you look at a map, Keystone is in fact three mountains aligned North (front side) to South (Outback). You ski the North and South side of each mountain.

The problem? The sun melts snow on the South flanks/slopes much faster than on the North sides and you end up with a pattern of alternating-quality snow. The North sides are generally colder and have the better snow, while the South sides suffer from icy conditions in the morning and can become a slush trap in the afternoon. That’s not nearly universal, of course: sometimes you want the warmth, for instance if the snow is icy everywhere and you want it to melt, in which case the North sides can remain icy and inhospitable all day.

There are more problems. For instance, while the mountain(s) is(/are) pretty big, there is only one lift that gets you from mountain 1 (Dercum M.) to mountain 2 (North M.), and only one for the entirety of mountain 3 (The Outback). The line at Santiago lift (leading up 2) can get out of hand at any time of day, because it used to be the only way to get from 1 to 3. (There is the gondola from 1 to 2 now, and it’s usually uncrowded. Take it if you want to go to the Outback!)

But this is not a litany of bad things about Keystone Resort. Instead, I’d like to present my favorite places on the mountain. I feel generous, since I am not going to see you there next year, as I will be skipping the EPIC Pass (as mentioned before).

So, first a preamble. What makes a place one of my favorites? It needs to fulfill a stringent set of criteria:

  1. Access through one or preferably several express lifts
  2. Snow of constant/predictable quality in a wide range of weather conditions
  3. Lack of crowds and unpleasant types
  4. A real challenge to get through
  5. No flat areas long enough to require unstrapping and pushing/walking

How this affects my choice of secret stashes is pretty clear. (1) The terrain by Alpine lift in Copper is fantastic, for instance, but the lift itself freaky slow. (2) While I love the Ruby Express lift line at Keystone, the snow can be of extremely variable quality and easily turns into an ice trap. (3) I loved Paradise Bowl in Crested Butte, but there was no untouched powder ten minutes after resort opening. (4) Groomers have long not been my thing any longer. Part of it is that you have to take them anyway to get to your favorite places, but part of it simply that I find it boring to just go down a run, whether straighlining or carving. If there is lots of powder it can be fun, but even then just a couple times.

A word of caution: the places I frequent are dangerous. People on the slopes are dangerous, but trees are much worse. Also, there are things (rocks, stumps, branches) between trees. Finally, my favorite places have cliffs, jumps, bumps, moguls, and other torture devices strewn densely in them. Proceed at your own risk, and always remember that this article was written by someone who had to sit out snow sports for 5 years because of a shoulder separation.

Now, with all that preamble, my favorite places in Keystone:

(more…)

Good-bye RMSP, Welcome IKON!

Last year I decided to splurge and buy both major season passes available in Colorado: EPIC, which is Vail’s offering and includes access of some kind to A-Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail, and Beaver Creek; and Rocky Mountain SuperPass (RMSP), which is good at Eldora, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Steamboat, and Crested Butte.

Of course, just as I decide to do that, we get one of the worst snow seasons on record. We are worried about water supply in the summer, as the snow melt is going to be insufficient, but right now I am more concerned about the tree stumps that are not covered and the runs that didn’t open until well into February.

Also, any crap season is good enough to throw the world of ski resorts into major turmoil. Whether that’s the problem or something else I cannot say, but I ended up buying the last RMSP season ever issued. RMSP is dead, as well as another competitor, M.A.X. They are replaced by a brand new pass that takes into account the shake-up in the industry.

What happened is that Vail Resorts (of EPIC) bought Whistler-Blackcomb from Intrawest, which runs Winter Park and Steamboat in Colorado. To make things more confusing, Intrawest renamed itself Alterra and is now a private company, still headquartered in Denver. And to top it all off, Alterra is co-owned by the company that runs Aspen, and synergies seem to emerge.

The end of all confusing happs is the emergence of a duopoly that is reflected in season passes. The old EPIC pass will continue, and will doubtlessly continue to be very popular. In fact, it snagged not only Whistler-Blackcomb, but also Crested Butte in its lineup. The pass will continue to offer some of the finest mountains in North America, including Whistler and Vail, two of my favorite three.

(more…)

Crested Butte Weekend

It’s been a tough year for travel. I had to deal with a lot of work, and if I found the time to snowboard, I rather shot up I-70 to my favorite haunts than drive for hours and days just to slide down a mountain I didn’t know. I mean, I am some 75 minutes from some of the finest resorts in the world, do I really have to fly to marginally better or really just different mountains?

Well, my friend C came to visit and he is an avid snowboarder. We make a point of always traveling to some place neither of us has seen, since we want to experience surprise in equal amounts, and there were quite a few mountains even in Colorado I had never seen before. Since I had the Rocky Mountain SuperPass and it included time at Crested Butte and Steamboat, I asked him to pick one of the two and he chose the correct one: Crested Butte!

[It was correct simply because it then turned out RMSP would not include Crested Butte next season, so this was my last chance to see the place for free!!!!]

A friend of mine, always the generous, let us stay at his condo in Downtown Dillon (as it were). So we decided we’d make a road trip out of it: drive to the condo in the evening, then to Crested Butte the next day.

Driving from Dillon to Crested Butte

There are basically two main ways to get to CB in the winter. Both are well-traveled highways, so either one is cleared of snow in a timely fashion. The last part of the drive is the same for both, while the two forks connecting with Denver are as different visually as you can imagine.

(more…)

Long Time No Read!

The spiders are busy deciding what happened to the old links on this site, while humans find the content just fine using the Search feature. But what happened? In short, we switched from Joomla to WordPress. It’s been a painful process, but one that couldn’t be postponed.

What was wrong with Joomla? Nothing major, really. Joomla is a fine piece of software, despite not being as popular or as beloved by the geeky masses. The crown of the former Kingdom belongs to WordPress, while the one of the other probably to Drupal, as far as PHP is concerned. But I grew increasingly frustrated with the direction Joomla was taking, and the camel’s back broke when I tried to get an Esperanto version of the software. I spent weeks translating and translating, the most boring and redundant strings, only to have the translation administrator disappear, then reappear, then declare he was going to take care of translating from then on, and then disappear again.

I needed sites in Esperanto, and WordPress had an outstanding translation available. I started playing with it, with the software, and found it a lot simpler than Joomla. Sure, there were many things I couldn’t do with WordPress, especially at my knowledge level, but those I could do were far simpler and more straightforward. Did I really need ACLs in my blog? Did I have to create my own templates just to get a tumblr-style image gallery?

I decided I didn’t, and that I wanted for a change to be in the dominant medium on the market. WordPress is the giant of site creation, and for a great reason. So now I converted the content I had (20 years of it, almost), checked that everything worked (it didn’t – at first), and now I am ready for more content creation. Just in time for the end of snow season!

Installing Dual-boot Linux on Asus Chromebook Flip C302

asus flip c302[YO! In case you didn’t know, installing a new OS on any computer is always risky. You are likely to lose all your data, brick your Flip, and suffer grievous injury if you follow the steps below.]

I’ve been a big fan of the Flip line of Chromebooks from Asus. It started with the absolutely fun 10.1″, which was a goddess-send on cramped flights (hello, Spirit?). I moved on to the C301, a plasticky thing that was all standard Chromebook and not as much fun. But once I saw the almost identically named C302. an all-aluminum unibody beauty, I knew I needed one.

On the other Flips, I installed Crouton. That’s software that allows you to run Linux on top of ChromeOS. That’s very useful: ChromeOS is great for media consumption and online work, but it lacks in everything else I want from a laptop. You can’t program, you can’t use software that isn’t available online, etc. Crouton allows you to do all that and then some and I loved it. 

Still, I run Linux natively on all my computers and it was a pain to deal with the limitations of an add-on. Cron jobs wouldn’t work, init scripts weren’t run, and whenever something didn’t work as expected, the first task was always to figure out if it was a problem with the environment or with my code. I wanted real Linux, not just an emulation. But I wanted to be able to continue using ChromeOS because Google is powerful enough to force media companies to run their stuff on its platform.

Dual-boot it had to be. Fortunately, since installing on the C301, the options for Linux installation have vastly improved and gotten more stable, easy-to-use, and reliable. Also, the first Linux distributions specifically meant for Chromebooks have appeared and sounded quite awesome.

(more…)

Profiling Satoshi Nakamoto

Intro

For the rest of the world, it all started in the Fall of 2008. There was a mailing list that only the most geeky geeks listened to, and one dude nobody had ever heard of before posted a whitepaper. People started working with him because he seemed to have a great idea. Then things took off. Then they really took off. Then, one day, the man didn’t say good-bye, but handed over the keys to the idea to a bunch of friends. And disappeared. And then, a little over three years later, he sends a message from the cyber-grave. Only to tell us he’s not someone.

When Bitcoin was young, there were services that gave Bitcoins away so people could play with them. You logged onto one of the sites and got 5 Bitcoin (or BTC for short) for free, just like that. You could go back as many times as you wanted. Today, those 5 BTC are enough to buy you a car. Depending on the day it’s a beater or a beemer.

The man that published the whitepaper and then disappeared has a name, Satoshi Nakamoto. Nobody knows if that’s the man’s real name. Nobody, in fact, knows if Satoshi Nakamoto is a single person, or a woman. He claims to be Japanese, claims to have been born and to live in Japan, but we have good reasons to believe neither is the case. He says he was born on April 5th, 1975, but nobody can verify that.

And yet, Satoshi Nakamoto has given us a technology that has the potential of changing the world. He’s like a faceless prophet that leads his people to a better land and vanishes in self-exile once we get there, following the commandments of a God we do not understand. And because he vanished without a trace, because he didn’t leave a whole lot of traces to begin with, and because Bitcoin has become so huge, everyone is asking the same question: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

(more…)

Rocky Mountain National Park / First Open Week!

2017 06 04 145200 neversummer 20170623 1216406316Colorado is justly famous for its mountains. The Rockies rise up in the middle of the continent like a wall meant to stop colonization and make the place rugged, remote, and scenic.

Alas, humanity is really good at beating down nature, and the Rockies were no match for our relentless pursuit of wealth and suburbs. By now, there are homes everywhere in the state, except where Federal land ownership prevents construction. But the mountains are still there, marvelous in their beauty and isolation.

Colorado is also famous for a few other things. People think it cold (which it really isn’t, thanks to abundant sunshine and thin air) and they are reminded by the name of the state of the river, the mighty Colorado that scoured the Grand Canyon in the almost infinitely long time it has been flowing.

Take these three things: the mountains, the snow, and the Colorado River, and put them all in one place. That’s bound to be the most Coloradan place in the state, right? And that’s what is Rocky Mountains National Park. Home to both the headwaters of the Colorado river and Longs Peak, one of the most prominent Fourteeners in the United States. Land of hikers and backpackers and hordes of tourists. 

2017 06 04 141421 20170623 1063009743There is only one road that cuts through the park, the aptly named Trail Ridge Road. Most people drive it East to West, starting in the very picturesque town of Estes Park, climbing up to the Alpine zone, and then descending into the Colorado River Valley. Every year, the road is closed when the snow storms make passage impossible. Every year, Coloradans wait for the weekend when the snow is cleared and we can all drive to the most beautiful landscape to stand in an endless line of cars.

Getting into Estes Park is easy. You follow one of the three highways, US 36, US 34, or CO 96, that converge onto the town. You also can’t miss Estes Park: once you enter the valley, you’ll see a beautiful town surrounded by high mountains in a green valley, just behind a reservoir. It’s a spectacular setting, as evidenced by the number of real estate companies that set up shop in town.

(more…)