Private Equity Controls the Gatekeepers of American Democracy – Bloomberg

Here’s yet another reason why we need open-source, fully auditable voting machines.

Millions of Americans will cast votes in Tuesday’s midterm elections, some on machines that experts say use outdated software or are vulnerable to hacking. If there are glitches or some races are too close to call — or evidence emerges of more meddling attempts by Russia — voters may wake up on Wednesday and wonder: Can we trust the outcome?

Meet, then, the gatekeepers of American democracy: Three obscure, private equity-backed companies control an estimated $300 million U.S. voting-machine industry. Though most of their revenue comes from taxpayers, and they play an indispensable role in determining the balance of power in America, the companies largely function in secret.

Source: Private Equity Controls the Gatekeepers of American Democracy – Bloomberg

Red Hat stock pays off again

Back in 1999, I was working at a local, famous IBM/Linux VAR called Indelible Blue as a Linux Specialist. One day I was investigating a customer issue with a CDROM drive and filed a bug in Red Hat’s Bugzilla bug tracking system. Months went by and I didn’t think much of it until later that summer when I received an email from Red Hat telling me I had been awarded a few hundred shares of pre-IPO stock!

I was amazed at Red Hat’s generosity of giving out pre-IPO stock to anyone in their bug tracking system. I sold the majority of the stock before the Dot Bomb era of 2000 but kept some shares around largely for sentimental purposes. With last month’s announcement of IBM buying Red Hat, I decided it was time to cash in the rest of my shares. Thanks to IBM’s purchase of Red Hat, my shares have brought me a welcome chunk of change.

It’s funny to think that my decision to file one bug over 19 years ago is still paying off today, and in a big way!

Breach at ICollectMedia

ICollectMedia has had its passwords stolen


About, oh … six years ago I tried out a CD cataloging service called ICollectMedia (ICM). Didn’t use it beyond the first time I signed up and forgot all about it until I recently began receiving ransom emails from online crooks who populated their emails with the unique password I used for ICM. Since this was a unique password for a service I no longer use, I wasn’t concerned about the breach affecting me, but it did show me that the folks who run ICM didn’t properly hash the passwords of their users. If they had used hashes then there is no way my complex, unique password would have been easily recovered and subsequently shared on the DarkWeb.

The breach-tracking site Hacked-Emails.com indicates that the ICM data hit the Darkweb on March 1st, 2018.

Amazon HQ2: Advanced talks about second headquarters in Northern Virginia – The Washington Post

Looks like Amazon won’t be coming to Raleigh. I know DC has been on the short list for the HQ2 site but as a techie who grew up outside of DC I would steer clear of any jobs that absolutely required me to commute there every day (outside of a ride in Marine One, that is).

Amazon.com has held advanced discussions about the possibility of opening its highly sought-after second headquarters in Crystal City, including how quickly it would move employees there, which buildings it would occupy and how an announcement about the move would be made to the public, according to people close to the process.

The discussions were more detailed than those the company has had regarding other locations in Northern Virginia and some other cities nationally, adding to speculation that the site in Arlington County is a front-runner to land the online retail giant’s second North American headquarters and its 50,000 jobs.

The company is so close to making its choice that Crystal City’s top real estate developer, JBG Smith, has pulled some of its buildings off the leasing market and officials in the area have discussed how to make an announcement to the public this month, following the midterm elections, according to public and private-sector officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Amazon has asked that the selection process remain confidential. The company may be having similar discussions with other finalists.

Source: Amazon HQ2: Advanced talks about second headquarters in Northern Virginia – The Washington Post

Russian eBay page

I’d been browsing eBay a few days back, checking out a few items I was considering buying. I left my eBay tab open though I was not logged in. Yesterday morning, I figured I would log into my eBay account and save the item I was viewing to my “wish list.” So, I clicked on the login link and was surprised to see the eBay signin page show up … in Russian!

I cannot for the life of me figure out how this happened. My browser language is not set to Russian, my eBay preferences are not set to Russian, and I did not somehow enter a Russian URL. There was no reported BGP hijack on eBay, nor would eBay necessarily reflect it if there was – the IP would not have changed from the eBay webserver’s point of view. Yet somehow it served me up a Russian page.

So, what could have happened here? Either something big happened to eBay, or something happened on my end. I did a quick nslookup to make sure I was hitting the proper site:

Non-authoritative answer:
signin.ebay.com canonical name = origin-signin.g.ebay.com.
Name: origin-signin.g.ebay.com
Address: 66.211.185.34
Name: origin-signin.g.ebay.com
Address: 66.211.181.81
Name: origin-signin.g.ebay.com
Address: 66.211.181.96
Name: origin-signin.g.ebay.com
Address: 66.211.185.47

Looks good. I checked the SSL certificate I was receiving and it checked out:

What I think happened is that my connection to eBay was rerouted temporarily through Russia, possibly through malware. Time to do some spring cleaning on my network, methinks.

The extraordinary life of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen – Business Insider

Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died yesterday at the age of 65. While I dissed him in the past for being a patent troll, Allen was very much an interesting guy and did some great things with his money. I particularly enjoy the Living Computers museum in Seattle, which Allen founded and played an active role in sustaining.

Everybody knows Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, the second-richest man in the world.But Microsoft’s other cofounder, Paul Allen, only became famous outside of Seattle once he published his memoirs in 2011.

He too was rich, and his net worth was pegged at $20 billion. With his money, he invested in a lot of tech companies, real estate, and art. But he also led an over-the-top life filled with rock and roll parties, collections, yachts, and sports teams.

Allen died on Monday aged 65 after a battle with cancer. Here is a look back at his fabulous life.

Source: The extraordinary life of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen – Business Insider

After Soyuz Failure, Space Is Now Weirdly Inaccessible to Astronauts

All crewed launches have been suspended by Russia’s space agency following yesterday’s Soyuz rocket failure. That’s a problem, because much of the world relies on Russian rockets to get both cargo and people into space. Consequently, we’re now facing the very real possibility of having an uncrewed International Space Station—something that hasn’t happened in nearly two decades.

Source: After Soyuz Failure, Space Is Now Weirdly Inaccessible to Astronauts

Gotcha! US Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Space Plane Spotted by Satellite Tracker


I am seriously considering making space object tracking a new hobby.

The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane may be secretive, but it’s not invisible.

Netherlands-based satellite tracker Marco Langbroek snapped long-exposure photos of the robotic mini-shuttle zooming over the city of Leiden yesterday (Aug. 20), capturing the spacecraft’s rapid trek across the night sky as a thin streak of light.The Air Force discloses little about X-37B missions, keeping details about the plane’s orbit and most of its payloads close to the vest. But Langbroek said he’s confident that the light trail he photographed came from the space plane, which is also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV).

“The object in question is not in the public catalogue of satellite orbits maintained by JSpOC (the U.S. military tracking network), which shows for an object this bright that it must be a ‘classified’ object,” Langbroek told Space.com via email. “We nevertheless know where ‘classified’ objects like this are, because they are routinely tracked by a small network of amateur trackers, in which I takepart.”

Source: Gotcha! US Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Space Plane Spotted by Satellite Tracker

Down the memory lane rabbit hole with BBSes

I’ve been reading through Adam Fisher’s Valley of Genius book and got to the chapter about The Well, one of San Francisco’s first online communities. It reminded me that I, too, was online as early as 1982, dialing up BBSes from my family’s 300-baud modem. I think the first BBS I called was run by a guy at the University of South Carolina.

Of course, a few years later in 1986 I had set up my own BBS in Great Falls, VA called the Basement BBS. At its peak it had 350 members, two high-speed (19.2 Kbps!) modems, and an early consumer hard-drive (10 whole megabytes!). Good times.

Valley also reminded me of my occasional hobby project of figuring out how to get the Basement back online here in the age of the Internet. This has proven to be more challenging than I expected, because:

1. DOS is a strange world, indeed, with lots of obscure drivers, configuration files, and confusing syntax.
2. I have forgotten 90% of the DOS secrets I once knew.
3. Modern virtualization systems were not designed with DOS virtual hosts in mind.
4. Virtualized DOS systems run far faster and with far more memory than their 80s era computers ever had, which causes problems.

Building a virtualized DOS environment is akin to assembling a ship in a bottle. You’re building a replica of an ancient artifact using very limited tools. All this, and I haven’t even gotten to the magic of modem emulation that will connect my BBS to the larger Internet.

This is the perfect geek project, though: a completely useless exercise in technology exploration. I hope, though, that at the end of it I have something to show for my trouble. But if I don’t that’s okay because I will have learned something anyway.

Sponsored content takes over local media website

Full of fake news! Click to see the reassembled full page, scaled down for your bandwidth’s pleasure.

Got an email yesterday from Google, saying it was time to renew my Google Adsense account. I took Google ads off my page so long ago that I forgot all about them. Fortunately, my blog is a labor of love and expenses run around $20/month. It’s not exactly a high-volume website like the websites of the local media.

I looked up a story today on the website of WRAL, a local television station. It was a story on a robbery and was a bit short on facts. Looking for more information, I began scrolling the page.

And scrolling … and scrolling … and scrolling.

The page went on and on, but it wasn’t more news stories; it was that dreaded garbage known as “sponsored content.” These are paid advertisements that masquerade as news stories, often using lurid, click-baiting headlines. Intermixed with these tabloid-esque stories were occasional links to WRAL’s content.

I got so outraged at the dreck WRAL was serving up to me that I spent over an hour just capturing screenshots of the page and reassembling these shots into the original page. I had to do this because the page was far too lengthy to fit onto one browser screen, crazy as it might sound. So that’s what you see above.
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