Thursday, July 27, 2017

School Update

I did well enough in one class that the professor has waived the final, I know my grade for a second class, and I'm just waiting on the grade for my final project in the third.

Which means I'm pretty much done until the start of the Fall semester. :)  Two A's for sure, and possibly/probably an A in the third class pending results.

I'm going to go hunt some Pokemon for a bit, and try to get a really good Articuno.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

I Sometimes Pity Donald Trump

I think I heard a story about Donald Trump some time ago.  That when he was young he went to some sort of bridge opening ceremony, and noticed that nobody really recognized the name of the architect who built that bridge.  That he was determined not to be overlooked like that.

I don't know if that's true or not, since I can't recall where I read it and can't find a link (searching 'Trump', 'bridge' and 'architect' brings up a whole bunch of other stuff).  If true, though, I think it shows something about Trump's driving need for recognition.  Something anyone with any passing familiarity with him would recognize, since he plasters his name on everything. (obligatory warning: I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, I do not know him personally, and I'm just guessing based on things I've read and seen.  Take it for what it's worth).

This obviously sets him apart from other wealthy individuals, since many are not well-known outside their own circles.  Your average person can name someone like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, but not much beyond that.  It's assumed celebrities and CEOs are at that level of wealth, as well, though you shouldn't always make that assumption.  And if you've been paying attention to wealth inequality and our political troubles, you'd know that the Senate and House of Representatives are mostly composed of millionaires.

I don't know what created such an intense drive for recognition, of course.  But for someone desperate to get his name out there, becoming president should ease some of that pressure.  I mean, say what you will about Trump (and I disagree with much about him), nobody is going to forget his name any time soon.

Children will learn to recite President Trump along with all the other presidents they get taught about in school. Historians will be debating his presidency fifty years or more from now, just as they still write about Andrew Jackson, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and even the less well known presidents (like Rutherford B. Hayes, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, etc.  Though who could forget the sideburns on President Martin Van Buren?)

Now, it's one thing to make it into the history books.  It's another thing to be considered a positive force in history.  Hence why so many people like to discuss a president's (any president's) legacy.  You may get recited by schoolchildren, but do you want to go down as a George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR?  A Richard Nixon or Warren Harding?  Or just get as close to forgotten as any president can get, like some of the presidents I listed above?

So here you've got this guy who is highly driven for name recognition, and to a certain extent he's achieved that.  (That would be disturbing to anybody, in and of itself, since once you've achieved a lifelong goal you're left wondering "what next?"  Once you've reached the summit, what purpose do you have?)

Except I don't think he's had time to reflect on that, and as embattled as he's been since before he even took office, I doubt he considers it achieved. 

I'm going to take a slight detour now, but it's with a sense of purpose I promise.

I, like almost anyone who has ever held a job, have sometimes been overruled and the group decides to do something I don't agree with.  (Shocking, I know!).  For the most part, I believe in contributing to the discussion while it's still a discussion...but once that decision has been made you have to support the decision.  With certain exceptions, like if it's immoral, illegal, or unethical of course. 

Some of that may be my military background (when you're taking direct fire, it might be better to go left or to go right, but if you stand in the open arguing about it the question is soon moot as you'll all be dead.)  But there are other reasons, and it's not just because I'm nice or unwilling to speak out.

It's because only two things are possible then - I'm either right, or I'm wrong.  If I'm right, it'll be obvious enough on it's own.  If I'm wrong, then Hey! - I learned something.

But if I actively try to undermine (or even sabotage) the effort than I actually just muddle the issue.  I make it easier for them to believe the problem was my lack of support, rather than their own bad idea.  Sure, they may still finger point and find some other excuse (and life is complicated enough that they might even be right)...but at least I'm not the one providing the fig leaf.

Which means that, barring extreme cases like I listed above, once the decision has been made I'll do what I can to make it work.  (This has caused problems, of course, since sometimes I find myself trying to tell my people to follow a policy I personally don't agree with in the first place.  Deciding when it's too much is a personal decision we all have to make for ourselves.)

So anyways.  When thousands of women protested Donald Trump the day after his inauguration, I felt it was a little - premature.  I get why they did it, I understand and saw some of the same things they did, and I won't tell them they shouldn't do it.  But I, personally, did not participate and did not feel it was the right time.  (I know I have a personal line where I would take action.  I did call my Representative about healthcare, for all the good it did.  Don't plan on voting for him in the next election, but I wasn't really planning to in the first place.  I do plan to vote, obviously.  And if someone actually tried doing something stupid like forcing Muslims to register I'd probably go down and register as Muslim myself...because that's Just Not Right.  But I'm throwing that out there as an obvious example of what would cross the line, not as an indication I think it will happen or that there isn't a line before that.)

The thing is, Donald Trump has been so embattled by opposition that it almost makes you feel sorry for him.  Plus he really puts a bee in the bonnet of all the rather self-satisfied and insular 'establishment' that we all like to hate so much.  But then he keeps tweeting horrible things, and suggesting horrible policies, and hiring horrible people.  It's like...the Democrats are giving him a fig leaf, except it's a bit too small to cover up all the problems.

So to bring this back to my earlier point, that becoming president is a guarantee of your place in the history books...

Donald Trump has achieved a level of name recognition that must be close to what he's clearly desired.  Yet he can't really appreciate that, and go through the stages of figuring out who he is without that driving need for recognition, because in a way that name recognition is threatened by the massive level of opposition (and in some cases, I'm sure, active sabotage.)

So he feels threatened and lashes out.  All of which makes things even worse, of course.


The summer semester is coming to an end, all of my homework has been turned in and I just have to study for a final later this week.  Still waiting on my grades for two assignments, I hope/think I did alright.

I've been doing a lot of extra reading on the side, mostly because I felt I had to in order to make sense of what I was learning.  For example, I was initially a little confused by references to registers and registries, but I think I've got it all straight now (very different things!).  Assembly Language Step by Step is a really awesome book, btw.  Loved it.  Of course, I don't know if I would have understood the importance of what it taught if I hadn't seen how that information matters when it comes to understanding malware and computer hacks.

I don't want to get too technical (those who know probably know this even better than I do, and those who don't probably aren't too interested in hearing the details) and I may have misunderstood something, but I'll give a very small snippet, explaining part of why I felt the need to get this book.

There's a bit of a co-evolution going on between cyber defenders and cyber attackers.  Sort of like we have with bacteria and anti-bacteria.  Any time one side changes their methods, the other side changes to counter it.  We have anti-virus scanners, so the people who write malware want to create programs that can't be detected by the scanners.  There's a couple of different techniques, one of which is to change up the code (in a way that has no real impact on it's functionality) so that scanners can't easily compare the program to it's known list of programs and identify it as malicious.

Some examples of such junk sequences are:

XOR register, register
SUB register, register

or (used together)

If you are like I was just a short little while ago, this doesn't really make a lot of sense.  I did know that the first part was instructions (XOR is "Exclusive Or", SUB for subtract, INC for increment and DEC for decrement) but registers?  AX?  Or (not listed in the commands above) other registers like EBP, EIP, ESP, EAX, etc?  And what do those commands above do?

Without trying to go into too much detail, I'll illustrate with the first two sequences.

'register' is just a stand in for any of the computer registers in your processor.  That gets into the mechanics of how your computer runs a program.  Overly simplified short version is that the computer loads whatever the program needs into a designated memory space, and in that space it will refer to what it needs by the memory address.  The various addresses and values are stored in the registers.  That's how it knows where to find the next instruction, or what value you told it previously when you want to add 2 + 2.  So the instruction above could say XOR EAX, EAX or XOR EDX, EDX, just substitute an appropriate register in the code.

The style is to write the action (XOR), destination and source.  So this is saying to XOR the EAX register to the EAX register.  When you tell a computer to take an "exclusive or" action, you're telling it to compare the source to the destination.  Remember, this is all in binary (1s and 0s).  Whatever data is in EAX is going to be something like 010111.  "Exclusive or" means it can be one or the other, but not both.  So if you compare 110 to 101, it looks at the first digit in each number (0 and 1) and asks "are they the same? or different?"  If they are the same, it returns a '0'.  If not, it returns a '1'.  It then compares the next two digits, and so on and so forth.  XOR the values 110 to 101 and it will return 010.

If you compare something to itself, it will always return 0 since each comparison will be a match.  And if you subtract something from itself you will also get 0.  Both lines of code do the exact same thing, but it's done differently...which means if an anti-virus scanner tries to compare something containing the code XOR EAX, EAX to something containing the code SUB EAX, doesn't look the same. 

Anyways, I wanted to write a little bit more about another topic, so I'll do that next.

Monday, July 17, 2017

An Interesting Read

I don't think I've heard a political analysis like this before, and new takes are actually pretty rare IMHO.  Most pundits and news agencies are just recycling the same tired old arguments.  Probably part of why we all stop listening to each other.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"Real man" vs "Good man"

I'm sharing this because I really liked the distinction between being a "real man" and being a "good man".

When I think of the men in my family - fathers, uncles, brothers - and friends who enjoy the benefits of fatherhood and family, who I've never questioned as to whether they were a "real man", and I sometimes wonder how we got this limiting notion that a "real man" is all about screwing lots of women and one-up ping everyone.

I know some of it is just America, too.  Consider how weird we find it that men in the middle east often hold hands. Like that picture of President Bush holding hands with the Saudi king.

What really sucks is I find it hard to believe that these so-called "real men" (who seem so weak and fragile compared to the men I know.  Like showing affection somehow threatens your masculinity?!?  You must not be very confident about that, if so) are truly happier with such a one-dimensional, rigid, narrow role that cuts them off from any real connection.

Odd Jump in Thought

I was reading an article about the Amazon Echo, and saw a link to the article below.  I was curious about it, mostly because Windows is still the primary desktop /business /office /school platform.  That is, much though I love my mobile if I'm going to do any serious typing I want a mouse and a keyboard.  (Maybe someday they'll create little portable computer modules that you can plug and play in phones, tablets and desktops.  Or virtually project a mouse and keyboard so you really can work off your phone.  Or, heck, maybe we'll all be cyborgs in the future, with implanted computers that can project displays on our eyeballs and read our intention to type.  I started to envision verbally talking to a voice assistant to write emails and papers, but honestly I type faster than I speak and I don't think that's realistic.  Unless everyone forgets how to type, which I suppose can happen.)

Anyways, although I was skeptical about the article I was struck by the notion that his criticism here could apply to our political parties.  Okay, first the article:

In our political system, the parties cater to their base (and the wealthy donors and lobbyists that fund them).  The perception is that they do this at the expense of the whole, which I generally agree with. 

Used to be, politicians knew they had to cater to the base in primary elections, then shift to a more general appeal for the election itself.  Getting those independents and swing voters was key to winning.

I'm not sure I believe that happens any more.  That is, both parties seem to have given up on swing voters and instead focus on a) energizing their base and b) discouraging turnout from the other side's supporters.

Some of that is our own fault, of course.  Too few Americans don't even bother to vote (much less vote in the primaries, which you pretty much have to if you don't want to get stuck yet again choosing between the lesser of two evils with whatever horrible candidates the hardcore party bases pick).

Still, the parties, whenever they suffer a defeat and claim to be determined to figure out what went wrong (which has happened with both parties in my lifetime.  Yet somehow they always recover, and the other party never maintains dominance), seem to do exactly what this article criticizes Microsoft for.

That is, in trying to figure out what to do better, they generally go to the base.  Their loyalists.  The ones that weren't going to defect in the first place.  And annoying though it is for those party loyalists who feel taken for granted, they aren't the ones the party needs to appeal to in order to do better next election.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Food for Thought

After the rather dramatic election last year, I added a few more sites to my news the interest of getting exposure to different points of view.

Some of that has probably spurred my earlier posts.  Anyways, I wanted to share a couple of them.  It's probably no surprise that both of them criticize our current political establishment (whether Republican, Democrat, or just 'the Establishment' in general.)

It does seem like both parties are increasingly out of touch.  Republicans don't get the attention Democrats do right now, since Trump won and all, but you can't forget that Trump's election was in many ways proof that the average Republican didn't really care about/support the things that the Republican Party stood for.  For example, if Christian conservatives had had enough support on their own we probably would have seen Ted Cruz or some other Republican nominated.  Although they seem to have tied themselves to Trump pretty closely since then, it's worth remembering that they didn't have the support on their own.  (Which is why it's probably inevitable, like almost every mid-term election, that the current political leaders will alienate people as they pursue their agenda and we'll see a shift in power when the mid-terms roll around.)

Anyways.  I sometimes wonder if this is just a delayed reaction to the increasingly tight grip both parties hold on their sources of power.  I can't remember the last time I felt like I lived in a district where my vote really mattered.  Indiana, for example, will pretty much always be red.  Even when I lived in more 'blue' regions of the state.  (Some of that is probably gerrymandering). 

Illinois, on the other hand, is almost always blue.  To a large degree because of Chicago.  The politics of Chicago are very different from the politics of the rest of the state, but the rest of the state doesn't really have the population to change that.  So we're pretty much always blue.

I know there is still some connection between constituent and representative, of course.  And the parties pay close attention to the places that are up for grabs.  They'll be monitoring the midterms and trying to interpret any shifts in power.  Though as the 2016 election proves people rarely find a consensus for why something happened.

Which just adds to this sense that they're out of touch.  Someone is always learning the 'wrong' lessons.  (Except, of course, why is my opinion on what lessons to learn any better than anyone else's?)