Category Archives: politics

Pirate Party: success at last!

Pirates are thriving, and it may be a good thing.

On December 2, Iceland’s President mandated that Pirate Party Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir form a government. In the October 2016 general election, the Pirate Party came in third, but the two top vote-getting parties, the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement, failed to build a coalition large enough to run the country. It is now time for the Pirates!

Yes, Iceland has a Pirate Party. As the Pirate Party website notes, it is patterned after the Swedish Pirate Party.

The UK established a Pirate Party in 2009, again patterned after the Swedish party. Founded in Manchester, it espouses civil liberties, privacy, direct democracy, and other very sensible things, constrained only by the somewhat strange name. It has never managed to get anyone elected to the UK parliament, but a quick read of the pamphlet distributed in Manchester for the 2015 election demonstrates a very workable set of policies:

What is the Pirate Party? "We believe that being a pirate means you are independently minded and independently minded politicians are what we need right now. If you believe most politicians are crooks, then maybe it's time to try the Pirate Party. Think different, vote different."
What is the Pirate Party? “We believe that being a pirate means you are independently minded and independently minded politicians are what we need right now. If you believe most politicians are crooks, then maybe it’s time to try the Pirate Party. Think different, vote different.”
Platform of the Pirate Party: end mass surveillance, respect privacy, basic living income for all, openness and transparency in government, free health care, broadband for all, education as a lifelong right.
Platform of the Pirate Party: end mass surveillance, respect privacy, basic living income for all, openness and transparency in government, free health care, broadband for all, education as a lifelong right.

Given the state of recent political rhetoric in the UK and the US, consider the Pirate Codex. It lays out a simple set of principles that, despite being political, are remarkably non-partisan.

Visit to NSA

The National Security Agency (NSA) has a large campus on Fort Meade, Maryland, protected by fences, barbed wire, police dogs, guards, and maybe a dragon or two. It is not visitor friendly.

But right outside of the campus is the National Cryptologic Museum,  an old motel once used by visitors for housing guests. The motel is no longer a motel, but a rather casually laid out museum, sprawling through hallways and odd spaces, filled with artifacts on the art of sending, receiving, and stealing secret messages.

This formerly super-secret agency (nicknamed “No Such Agency,” as even the name was a secret) recently displayed a sign in the entrance claiming it was a Pokémon Go stop, which is a major step forward into the world of publicity.

The National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade started advertising itself as a Pokemon Go "Pokéstop" shortly after the Pokemon Go craze started. You could hunt for Pokemon and learn about secret messages at the same time.
The National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade started advertising itself as a Pokémon Go “Pokéstop” shortly after the Pokémon Go craze started. You could hunt for Pokémon and learn about secret messages at the same time.

Right inside, and probably to the great surprise of the British Museum, is the Rosetta Stone, one of the best examples of coding from the ancient world,

The Rosetta Stone, often thought to be housed at the British Museum in London, but really located outside the gift shop of the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, MD. Unlike that one in London, this one is easier to photograph and touch.
The Rosetta Stone, often thought to be housed at the British Museum in London, but really located outside the gift shop of the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, MD. Unlike that one in London, this one is easier to photograph and touch.

The museum houses artifacts that may not so obviously be associated with cryptology, such as a hunk of wreckage from Gary Powers’ U-2 surveillance aircraft, shot down over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. The Soviets fired fourteen missiles at the high-flying  U-2, finally hitting it with an S-75 Dvina, specially designed for the attempt. The Soviets also accidentally shot down one of their own MiG-19 fighters, sent up in an attempt to intercept the U-2.

The wreckage of the U-2 fell almost 14 miles before hitting the ground. A piece of that wreckage was presented to the US by Russia in 1994.

A piece of the wreckage from Gary Powers' U-2 surveillance aircraft, shot down by the Soviets in 1960 and presented to the US by the Russian government in 1994.
A piece of the wreckage from Gary Powers’ U-2 surveillance aircraft, shot down by the Soviets in 1960 and presented to the US by the Russian government in 1994.

You can check out a earlier blog entry for more photos and information about the museum, including the famed Enigma coding machine.

FOSE was gunning for business

FOSE is the largest computer conference and exhibition in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region. At one time, it had days of meetings, classes, speeches, and other educational events, plus miles and miles of aisles filled with the latest computer hardware and software. Every single hardware and software company of any note was there, either with their own branded booth or with a Beltway partner acting as a proxy.

This year, FOSE probably had more guns than computers. For a show that began life as the Federal Office System Expo, it was a bit alarming to see racks of shotguns, automatic pistols, machine guns, assault guns, silencers, ammunition clips, ammunition belts, special holsters, special transport containers for weapons and ammunition, body armor, and all manner of things not normally found at a computer show or an office. Unless you were planning on shooting a computer, it is unlikely this weaponry would make computers any more secure.

These assault rifles, manufactured by Heckler & Koch, a German arms manufacturer, were on display at FOSE, the largest computer show in the Washington, DC, region.
These assault rifles, manufactured by Heckler & Koch, a German arms manufacturer, were on display at FOSE, the largest computer show in the Washington, DC, region. The sales representative sported a US flag, with no sense of irony.

Early version of Google

This was the early version of Google. Using these humble wooden drawers, generations of scholars and researchers, desperate students and cunning spies, despairing parents and fanatical bibliophiles, and every other shape and size of reader delved into the depth and breadth of human understanding.

Something worth considering: Google contains only a fraction of the knowledge once cataloged by card catalogs. Technology has digitized and indexed only that which is easy to digitize and index; most journal articles, newspaper articles, books, scientific papers, notebooks and other written material are still confined to physical forms, and unknown to Internet search engines.

How I miss card catalogs.

The humble card catalog was the early version of Google. These wooden drawers held the wonder's of the world's past and the future of the universe.
The humble card catalog was the early version of Google. These wooden drawers held the wonder’s of the world’s past and the future of the universe.

Tudor’s biscuits?

One thing that separates the United States from England is the humble biscuit. We simply cannot agree on what a “biscuit” is, and this disagreement was one of the flash points of the American Revolution. (Possibly baking points rather than flash points?)

But apparently not all traces of British occupation were removed by the Revolution, as this bulwark of Britannia can be found in West Virginia. The Tudor dynastic linkage suggests that the establishment even predates the Revolution.

Tudor's Biscuit World, found in the wilds of West Virginia.
Tudor’s Biscuit World, found in the wilds of West Virginia.