The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Hello, GCHQ

A joint US-UK operation has obtained the master encryption keys to billions of mobile phones:

The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The breach, detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document, gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.

With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Possessing the keys also sidesteps the need to get a warrant or a wiretap, while leaving no trace on the wireless provider’s network that the communications were intercepted. Bulk key theft additionally enables the intelligence agencies to unlock any previously encrypted communications they had already intercepted, but did not yet have the ability to decrypt.

Oh, goody. Essentially, if you have a phone with a SIM card (in the U.S., that means you have AT&T or T-Mobile), the NSA and Britain's GCHQ can listen in to your conversation in real time. (The article goes into some good technical depth about the exploits and how they did it.)

Of course, they would have to be looking for you in order to do that, but still. This is the kind of revelation that (a) makes me think Edward Snowden may not have been such a bad guy after all, and (b) that because so few people care, the world is a scarier place.

By the way, I'm right now reading The Honourable Schoolboy, having finished Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in London last weekend. I'm rooting for Smiley and Westerby just the same. But you know, the USSR had 15,000 nuclear bombs pointed at us, and Western spying back then was aimed at the USSR, not at its own citizens.

Bar exams in two jurisdictions

Since last report, I've spent time at two bars known for their craft beer selection. Even though I've seriously reduced my beer intake for a variety of reasons (especially its effect on my Fitbit numbers), spending a couple of days away from home let me feel a certain license in my consumption.

Friday night, therefore, I found Kaschk, a Swedish-owned pub on the fringes of the Mitte district in the former East Berlin. Within a few moments of entering I knew I'd come to the right place:

Old Rasputin on draft? And what's this Brewfist Spaceman pale—Italian?

After a 90-minute conversation with the manager, Rab (yes, Rab: he's Scots), I actually accepted that somewhere in Italy someone knows how to make small-batch craft beer.

Then, last night, back to Southampton Arms, we had a rare (for Saturday night) sighting of Fred the Bar Bitch:

And as Southampton Arms is a true pub, the evening wound up with me and a very cool couple (Chris and Jess) closing the place down before I hit the Night Bus back to my hotel. After that began a disappointing and ultimately futile search for kebab. No matter; it was a great evening, with a limited number of very tasty beers, including Redemption Big Chief Ale.

And now I'm back at Heathrow, with a 20-minute walk to my gate commencing in just a moment. Then Chicago, then routine. And less beer.

Berlin history

Another big walking day in sunny weather took me up to Bernauerstraße and the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial):

That's a mostly-preserved but partially-reconstructed section of the wall at the corner of Bernauerstraße and Ackerstraße, near the site where the first person trying to flee over the wall was killed. It's hard to imagine that the place I'm sitting now was once in East Berlin, just a few hundred meters from the place by the Wall where Reagan gave his famous speech in 1987.

I ended the walk at the DDR Museum, which outlined what life in East Germany was like from 1945 to 1990. In between I walked down Big Hamburger Street Große Hamburger Straße, in the old Jewish quarter, and stopped to check email (and have some non-German beer) at Sophie'n eck:

This is just a few meters from the monument to all of Berlin's Jews killed during the Holocaust. More grim history.

It's also fairly close to Museum Island which—wait for it—is an island on which sits nothing but museums (and the occasional cathedral). Here's the view looking downstream from the northern tip of Museums-Insell:

Upstream a bit is the Berlin Dom, which is not a BDSM maneuver but is still big, intimidating, and German:

Note that all of these photos are from my mobile phone. I have a few hundred on my real camera, but they're inaccessible right now because I forgot the proper cable. I aim to have some of those photos up by Wednesday or Thursday.

Tomorrow I'm off to my second-favorite city in the world, where I have set aside time and calories to park at Southampton Arms for a couple of hours.

Tonight, though: I've got another 6,000 steps to go. I missed 20,000 yesterday by just a handful, but I have over 100,000 for the week, putting me almost up to 80 km. (I've yet to hit 15 km in a day. Maybe tomorrow?)

Too busy to write something interesting

Therefore, another link round-up:

There are a couple of other articles on my Kindle too, I just haven't got time to link them.

Train à grande vitesse

Since the client on the Paris thing for some reason declined to spend $9,000 per person for us to fly business class, I decided to take American 90 to London and then take Eurostar under the Channel. The strategy worked; I got sleep on a real bed Sunday night, and was coherent and lucid Monday afternoon at the job site.

This time, I put a clock on the train. Here's what my phone GPS showed about 30 minutes outside London:

The screen shot above (click for full size) shows that about here the train was moving 281 km/h, which is how it gets from London to Paris with two stops in under two and a half hours. Flying from London City to Orly would take about that long, and I'd still have had to take the RER up to the job site. At one point I clocked it at 297 km/h, which is still not the fastest train in France. SNCF's TGV-320 goes—wait for it—320 km/h. (Then there's the Shanghai Maglev...)

This is why I love Europe.

Fast trip home from Paris

Because I stayed in the Airport Sheraton, had only carry-on bags, and got my boarding pass last night, I got on my flight home less than half an hour after leaving my hotel room this morning. Then, at O'Hare, because of the aforementioned lack of checked baggage, a New York-style walking speed, and Global Entry, I got from the airplane to my car in exactly half an hour. Parker was in the car half an hour after that.

Compare that to the trip out, when I left my house at 7, the plane finally left the gate at 10:30, and—oh, right, it only took me 55 minutes to get from the airplane to my hotel in London, including the ridiculously long walk from Terminal 3 to the Heathrow Express and flagging down a taxi at Paddington.

Anyway, dog and man are home, I've completed my deliverable for tomorrow, and I will now get a nap before Euchre Club meets at 7:30.

I forgot what I was going to write about

I had a pretty good blog entry to post a couple of hours ago, and I forgot it totally. This is because I was wrestling a virtual machine to the ground because it had gone somewhere HTTP requests could not follow. I'd have posted about that nonsense, too, except the VM hosts The Daily Parker, you see.

I am therefore reduced to a link round-up, though this time I will embed, rather than link to, two of the things that people have sent me in the past day and a half:

  • I had an excellent dinner tonight.
  • Science writer Michael Hanlon thinks innovation peaked in 1973. I disagree, but I haven't got a rebuttal yet.
  • People in L.A. suspect that arsonists burned down one of the most anti-urban development projects ever thrust upon Americans.
  • My flight Sunday got delayed in part because of de-icing. Patrick Smith explains why this happens.
  • Chicago steak houses are suffering because the price of wholesale beef has shot up in recent days. I feel for them, I really do, but I also want to have a Morton's steak before year's end. Anyone want to join me?
  • Talking Points Memo has a timeline of the New Republic's self-immolation. I still mourn.
  • I got some personal news today that will make Daily Parker headlines when it's officially announced next week.
  • I'm staying up until 3am CET (8pm Chicago time) because I don't want to fall asleep at Euchre tomorrow. Just remember: the left bower is trump, you idiot.
  • A propos of nothing, I'm posting one of the best speeches by one of the worst characters in all Shakespeare:
    There is a tide in the affairs of men.
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
    Omitted, all the voyage of their life
    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
    On such a full sea are we now afloat,
    And we must take the current when it serves,
    Or lose our ventures.

You have been patient, and have earned your reward. Here are your two videos, hat tip to reader MG:

And this, but you have to skip ahead to 37m 53s to get the point:

Travel day

Business travel sometimes presents contradictions. Here are mine today:

  • Good news: I got assigned to do a technical diligence in Paris.
  • Bad news: We'll be at the airport for two days, with only one opportunity to see the city.
  • Good news: Hey, it's an all-expense-paid trip to Europe.
  • Bad news: In coach, which is really grim on an overnight flight such as one from Chicago to Paris.
  • Good news: There's a 9am flight to London and the Eurostar to get me to Paris the next morning.
  • Bad news: I have to get up at 6:30am on a Sunday.
  • Good news: There's no traffic on the Kennedy at this hour on Sunday morning, so I got from my house to the airport and through security in only 30 minutes.
  • Bad news: It's still Sunday, and I'm missing two full days for travel.

On balance, it's worth the trip. But yes, I'm going to be grumpy about some aspects of it.

Updates as the situation warrants.

Uncomfortable flight delays

Well, we made it to Heathrow only an hour late, and scrambled to get our initial findings out to our director in the 45 minutes we had available in the lounge...until our flight to Chicago was also delayed an hour and fifteen minutes. Really I just want to get on the plane and sleep. But then I also want to get home with enough time to nap before an event I've been looking forward to. So, here's hoping the published delay right now is the real delay, and I still have a couple of hours to unpack and change.

Also, I was off just a bit in my surmise how the credit card transit tickets worked. It's not that Norway has less transit theft than other countries (though I suspect this is true anyway), it's that you have to swipe your credit card to get out of gates when you arrive. Still, we left the hotel at 5:20 and got to the airport by 6. That's pretty impressive.