Communion Of Dreams


Three weeks in Wales, Part 10: Welsh Rover.

 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9.

Took this the next morning at breakfast in the Black Lion pub, just had to share it:

While we’d had exceptionally nice weather through most of our trip, the next day we woke to more low-hanging clouds, light rain, and mist. In other words, characteristically Welsh weather.

We next had an Air B&B up outside of Caernarfon. Charming place. Lots of character. Bit too much for my tastes, actually. Would have been fine if I were a grad student again, but I’ve now come to like more luxury when on vacation. Like a bed which isn’t a foot off the floor. A bathroom which isn’t down the hall, up some stairs, then down another hall. And a door which *doesn’t* lock from outside the room.  It made me … uncomfortable. At least the host was pleasant, though in a way which a murder mystery writer might describe. Yes, I have an over-active imagination, but still. We stayed the one night, but high-tailed it to a conventional holiday hotel elsewhere in the area the next day.

But before we went there, we took a trip south to pay homage to Number 6. Yup, we went to Portmeirion:

Even The Village needs maintenance work now and again.

Rover! Here boy!”

 

OK, this is hard to make out. But there in the middle of the image is a modern security camera. Given how Portmeirion was used as the setting for The Prisoner, with it’s all-encompassing monitoring, I just thought it a bit ironic to actually see this.

 

After a nice afternoon in Portmeirion we went up to Caernarfon and strolled around a bit. I was surprised at just how much the city shuts down at the end of the business day — they really roll up the sidewalks.

But there was still one pub going strong, at least: The Anglesey Arms.

Where we saw this. I thought the paint job would appeal to a number of my friends.

The next morning we decided to go out onto the Llŷn Peninsula, first going to Criccieth Castle.   Here’s the description of Criccieth from St Cybi’s Well — see if you think it fits with the image from Castle Wales below.

Darnell went across to the exit into the castle grounds proper. The path turned left, then right into a copse of trees. When he emerged from these, the massive gatehouse seemed to loom directly overhead. The path cut up the hill at an angle on the north side, climbing steeply, then switched back before coming around to the front of the gatehouse. There was little doubt that when the castle was in operation, taking this path would mean that any attackers would be under constant fire from arrows, bolts, and heavy stones coming from the walls and the outer gatehouse. Trying to go straight up the hillside would have been even worse, because while it was a shorter path, it was much more precarious footing, and still under direct fire from the outer gatehouse tower and curtain wall.

And of course, if you made it past the outer gatehouse, then you had to contend with the huge inner gatehouse, a massive structure of twin D-shaped towers sporting a delightful array of arrow loops and murder holes.

Do go and check out the castle itself: it’s damned impressive, even in its ruined state. And the lump of hill it sits on is a stunning site, with fantastic views of the town and country around:

From Criccieth, we did some exploring on the peninsula, then thought to go find a small church we had heard about from friends years before. This is St Beuno’s at Pistyll, on the north shore, and its so small that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry:

St Beuno’s is a 12th century structure, though it has seen some updates and repairs over time. Still, it’s largely intact, and feels like it both inside and out:

Note the rushes on the floor.

 

If you look carefully, you can see the holes in the rafters for where thatch was held in place. The slate roof is only about 100 years old.

I love these two pans of moss & stone in the window ledges, an old tradition related to Easter:

Moss pan in the window, 12th century stone font for holy water in the foreground.

Outside:

The narrow window is called a “Leper’s squint”, where those who were not permitted inside the church could witness mass.

And around:

Lovely.

Jim Downey

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Because I was not the President.*

First they flew to watch for illegal immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an illegal immigrant.

Then they flew to look for marijuana farms, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a marijuana farmer.

Then they flew to watch the White House, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not the President.

Then … and then … and then …

 

Jim Downey

*With apologies.



Three shall be the number thou shalt count…*

Today’s the official Third Anniversary for the publication of Communion of Dreams, and in celebration, you can download the Kindle edition today for free! Who doesn’t like free? I mean, yeah, sure, if someone walks up to you and offers you a free punch in the nose, you might not like it, but other than that …

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I was honestly surprised when I looked and saw that the last blog entry was ten days ago. I haven’t been ill, or traveling, or anything. But after I recorded the essay for “This I Believe” I was feeling very … quiet. As I explained to a friend:

It may be hard to understand, and I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but it (recording the essay) was actually a very hard thing for me to do. It wasn’t just any essay or promotional piece I’d written, not like doing interviews or anything. The essay was powerful because of the emotions behind it — I’m certain that’s why it has resonated for people. But that same source of power cuts very deep for me. Particularly after the stuff last month, it took a hell of a lot for me to come to terms with it all again, and to do so in such a public fashion.

You probably wouldn’t think so from reading this blog (or the book which came out of it), but I am actually a very private and introverted person by nature. My writing has always been a way for me to push myself out of my comfort zone, to force myself to be somewhat more public, more sharing. And it’s worked. Mostly. But there are still times when I just need to withdraw, to recover my energy and self-confidence. This last week+ has been one of those times.

Thanks for understanding. Now, go download that book if you haven’t already.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course.



“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”*

When you see news like this in the mainstream press…

Rogue Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Call

It seems rather far fetched at first glance. There is news that came out last week that rogue cell phone towers around the US are forcing mobile devices to disable their encryption making it possible that someone might be able to listen in to your call. “That could never happen to me,” you think out loud. But, apparently it could.

In 2010 at the DEF CON in Las Vegas, security researcher Chris Paget did the unthinkable. He built a cell tower of his own so that he could spoof legitimate towers and intercept calls.The device would mimic the type used by law enforcement agencies to intercept phone calls. In this case, he was able to build it for roughly $1500 US. Paget’s device would only capture 2G GSM phone calls. Carriers such as AT&TT -0.06% and T-Mobile would be vulnerable as they use GSM, unlike Verizon which relies on CDMA technology.

… it’s easy to feel a little paranoid. But is this a real threat? Has anyone actually seen things like this ‘in the wild’?

Yup:

Rogue ‘Cell Towers’ Can Intercept Your Data; At Least One Found In Chicago

So-called rogue cell phone towers, the type that can intercept your mobile calls and data, are cropping up all over the United States, including here in Chicago, according to a company that specializes in developing highly secure mobile phones.

* * *

CBS 2 security analyst Ross Rice, a former FBI agent, said it’s likely being used illegally.

“I doubt that they are installed by law enforcement as they require a warrant to intercept conversations or data and since the cell providers are ordered by the court to cooperate with the intercept, there really would be no need for this,” Rice said.

“Most likely, they are installed and operated by hackers, trying to steal personal identification and passwords.”

Great. Just great.

Well, what can you do? There are some smart phones out there which are designed to thwart this kind of security threat. And I’ve mentioned another option previously. And now there’s a company with a whole line of clothing based on similar RF-blocking technology:

Kickstarting a line of Orwell-inspired clothes with radio-shielding pockets

“The 1984 Collection” is a line of clothing for men and women with removable, snap-in pockets that act as radio-shields for slipping your devices and tokens (cards, phones, etc) into to stop them from being read when you’re not using them.

Hmm … let’s see, there’s a passage from Chapter One of St Cybi’s Well that comes to mind:

Darnell stepped close to her, said in a low voice, “Give me your hand-held.”

She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I don’t want to make it too easy for anyone to listen in.”

“Really, Dar, or is this some kind of joke?”

“Really.”

She looked him in the eye, pulled her phone out of her small purse, held it out to him. “Here.”

“Either turn it off or put it into offline mode.”

She fiddled with it a moment then handed it over. He took it and dropped it into the RF-blocking pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”

“Couldn’t I just have turned it off?”

“Nope. They can still turn it on remotely and activate the mic. This pocket,” he patted the satchel where he had put the phone, “blocks the signal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good protection.”

I guess I need to get back into the habit of using my RF-shielding pocket.

 

Jim Downey

*Philip K. Dick, of course.



Are hats next?

I have mentioned this passage from the prelude to St Cybi’s Well a couple of times previously:

He turned the hand-held on, did a quick check to make sure it had the software and apps he’d asked for. Everything was there. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held. He turned off the hand-held, dropped it into a special pocket inside his vest – one which was RF-blocked. He had another such compartment in his satchel. These, like the wallet/holster, were prohibited items and grounds for arrest in the States, but while they would raise an eyebrow in the UK they weren’t technically illegal.

 

And even earlier did a blog post about a commercial product to isolate a phone that way when I first thought of it: Off the Grid Bag. (Which actually works quite well, as a matter of fact; I got one of those and have tested/used it exactly as intended.)

Well, now someone has come up with the idea of making actual articles of clothing using the same idea:

Sure, you could just turn off your phone. But that would be too easy. Now, thanks to Trident (yes, the chewing gum) and fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga, you can repel all cellphone transmissions simply by wearing these hip threads called Focus Life Gear—made of radio frequency shielding fabric.

 

I suppose that since I haven’t actually published St Cybi’s Well yet I can’t claim to have predicted this tech, but no matter — it’s an obvious application of existing technology and desire for privacy. But still, kinda fun.

 

James Downey

Tip of the radio-wave-blocking hat to Tim for the news item! Thanks!



It’s not about security. It’s about abuse and incompetence.

I know sometimes people think that I am anti-government or anti-authority because I rant about infringements of our civil rights and personal liberties. I’ll cop to some of that, since I do believe that trading freedom (or even privacy) for a false security is foolish.

But more importantly, I think that the whole notion of secret courts or secret laws or secret lists are dangerous because they can be abused not due to an over-enthusiastic effort to protect the country, but because of personal grudges or to cover up incompetence. Without the ability to challenge these secret acts/actions, those abuses and incompetence cannot be brought to light and corrected. This is the perfect example of that:

The government contested a former Stanford University student’s assertion that she was wrongly placed on a no-fly list for seven years in court despite knowing an FBI official put her on the list by mistake because he checked the “wrong boxes” on a form, a federal judge wrote today.

The agent, Michael Kelly, based in San Jose, misunderstood the directions on the form and “erroneously nominated” Rahinah Ibrahim to the list in 2004, the judge wrote.

“He checked the wrong boxes, filling out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote (.pdf) today.

* * *

Much of the federal court trial, in which the woman sought only to clear her name, was conducted in secret after U.S. officials repeatedly invoked the state secrets privilege and sought to have the case dismissed.

 

Doctor Ibrahim is the first person to successfully challenge in court being put on a government watch list in the US. It’s highly doubtful that she is the only one to be placed on such a list incorrectly.

National security may benefit from secret lists and hidden actions. But so does bureaucratic incompetence and hidden agendas.

 

Jim Downey



It’s a mystery.*

Some more ‘quick hits’ …

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s a very good article about the nuance of what you can/should call a book, and the sort of question I have had to dance around countless times when people have asked me what was the “oldest book” I’ve ever worked on:

What is the Oldest Book in the World?

The past few days I have been preoccupied with a deceptively simple question: “What is the oldest book in the world?” Having done some looking around I can now report that while somewhere on this planet, in a vault or a cupboard, lies the oldest surviving book, it is actually impossible to say which one may be branded as such. Bear with me.

 

* * *

A light bulb in our kitchen blew out, and needed to be replaced. Routine, except that this bulb was in a fixture on the ceiling in the part of the kitchen where the ceiling is 12′ (I live in an old house). Still, no big deal — we have a tall enough step ladder so it’s just a minor hassle.

So I set up the ladder, climbed to the fixture, new CFC bulb in hand. The fixture is one of those old kind that have been used for 50+ years, with a glass sphere hanging from a metal ring, more or less enclosing the whole thing. You back out three set-screws, drop the sphere, clean out the various small flying bugs which have gotten into it over the years, replace the bulb and then put the sphere back.

And there were some small dead flying bugs. But there were also several large crickets. Dead. And one small live one.

How the hell did they get into that fixture?

 

* * *

Anyone who thinks we’re not living in a partial police state just hasn’t been paying attention. To apply William Gibson’s classic phrase in a rather darker way: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal agents wrongfully strip-searched a New Mexico woman at the El Paso border crossing, then took her to a hospital where she was forced to undergo illegal body cavity probes in an attempt to find drugs, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in El Paso said the unnamed 54-year-old U.S. citizen was “brutally” searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December 2012 after being selected for additional random screening at the Cordova Bridge in El Paso when a drug sniffing dog jumped on her. The woman was returning from a visit to a recently deported family friend in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, the lawsuit said.

Agents quickly stripped searched her and did cavity searches but found no evidence of drugs, court documents said. But the woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, the lawsuit said, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and other exams without a warrant.

Via BoingBoing.

 

* * *

Enough for now, except to note that this is blog post #1,600 and we’re rapidly closing on 100,000 hits to this blog! Yay!

Have a good weekend!

Jim Downey

*Reference this.