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This BBC blog post on the British secret security services by Adam Curtis is a ray of light in the darkness. It’s entertaining as well as illuminating.

Bruce Schneier’s essays on security are, I think, the best on the subject on the other side of the atlantic.

Richard Falk’s comments on Snowden’s asylum in Russian resonated with me; then I noticed that I was reading them on a web site most Americans never visit. There’s little chance of America’s security services being caught looking ridiculous any time soon, domestically anyway.

The arrogance, stupidity and amorality of the American security state, and Obama’s complicity in it, remain unfathomable. It appears that he has been co-opted by forces he couldn’t resist, has bought into their world view, and mislaid either his moral compass or the courage to use it. He’s right to think that America’s reputation has suffered. And so has his. Granted, other states are as bad or worse and are less open to challenge, so far. What matters is the example America sets, in correcting itself. Again.

I am optimistic that Americans will eventually roll back the surveillance and establish a new moral rather than technological norm for what can be done by the state. What a pity the presidential election wasn’t fought on a substantive issue such as this, with a more serious opponent than a brylcreemed oligarch.

However, even when that happens America’s ideas of how it can behave internationally may not change, and that will have consequences. The private sector gets it. The west’s spymasters didn’t see the fall of the soviet union coming but, famously, Shell Oil’s scenario planners did. It hasn’t taken much scenario planning in Silicon Valley to see where things will end when America is the world’s least trusted power. Alas, the decision to seek to assert dominant cyberoffensive capabilities, from spying to deployment of cyberweapons, will have unintended consequences on which there has been little evident public debate or reflection.

Above all, the asymmetric waste, the fortune spent on self-inflicted damage is astonishing. Even a small part of the protection money directed at, say, protecting children in poor countries from malaria, or polio, would achieve tangible benefits of global significance, morally and in terms of security (the misuse of vaccination as a cover for covert activities by the CIA was, of course, the moral antithesis).

Some levity is needed to avoid feelings of depression when reflecting on such things. Mr Curtis delivers.

The bicycle barometer takes account of the weather and the status of selected London Underground lines.

I missed a chance recently to fill in my religion as “Backup” when completing a form.

My data had a brush with mortality not long afterwards.

After a recent power outage I restarted an APC 650 UPS and then my ReadyNAS NV network storage box; almost immediately there was a bang. The UPS was kaput, likewise the power supply of the ReadyNAS. I’m not sure which, if either, was to blame.

The ReadyNAShas been humming away, 24 x 7, running up the electricity bill for 5 years (55W in idle mode). It had a midlife upgrade a couple of years ago, but replacing it wasn’t high on the TO DO list.

I groaned and felt some shame at the fact that it was not properly, i.e., 100%, backed up. The holy trinity is:

If it’s not

  • automated
  • redundant
  • regularly rotated off-site
it’s not a real backup.

My computers are subscribed to the first two precepts but the ReadyNAS, though baptised into this creed, has lapsed from observance. Offsite backups fell off the wagon, mainly because backing up over a USB 2.0 port is tedious and needs too much manual intervention.

Thankfully, I had a spare power supply.

The original had a serial number in a range that was potentially defective, on foot of which I got a free replacement a few months after getting the device; and I kept the original, just in case.

Running with no spare power supply and no UPS felt a bit like driving on 4 bald tires, and as 5 years was a good innings, I looked into getting a replacement. Ideally, I could partially retire the ReadyNAS, keeping it as an additional backup system.


Synology DS314: up to 16Tb

It didn’t take me long to decide: I ordered a Synology DS413.

I considered building a box of my own and running FreeNAS and may still do so someday, but for now the DS413 looks, compared to the ReadyNAS, almost like going from DOS to Windows. Storage hasn’t just continued to get cheaper, it can sling data in lots of new and fun ways.

More about that shortly.


My Lenovo X200 died and spent a few weeks in pieces lately. The fan gave up after 3 years, not long after the warranty expired.

I bought a replacement laptop  (an X220 with 8Gb RAM) earlier than I wanted to because I couldn’t afford any downtime, then I set about trying to revive the X200. I ordered a spare fan from a UK supplier but they sent the wrong thing entirely, and it was the last they had in any case.

Next I stumbled on and tried PC Hub in Singapore.

It took a while (regular mail), but I got what I needed. My X200 is now running Ubuntu, quietly. Total cost: $33, with free shipping.

Fortunately I had some thermal paste as the fan is attached to a copper heatsink that is fitted directly over the CPU. The replacement was a recycled, not a new unit (it had some old thermal paste on it). This was not clear from PC Hub’s site.

I encountered two problems.

I had no idea at the outset how hard it would be to replace the X200′s fan — especially when I made it a bit harder by not keeping a careful record of where every screw came from! I ended up with a desk covered in bits and little piles of screws, 4 here, 2 there and so on. When the first fan turned out to be the wrong thing I had to just tidy up and hope I’d remember or figure it out later. Let’s just say I ended up with a few screws left over, somehow, later.

Annoyingly, the default with Ubuntu was for the fan to run a maximum speed, making an insufferable noise and threatening a need to repeat the fan replacement sooner rather than later. I found a solution, an application called Thinkfan, eventually, with some instructions in German here.

For a while I feared that this story would end badly but it turned out all right in the end, thanks to PC Hub.

PC Hub has an interesting back story.

The X200 has only two moving parts: the hard drive and the fan; one replaceable in seconds and the other… grrrr

It makes a bit of a mockery of this


I’ve let a lot of stuff pass under the bridge unremarked lately.

This evening I was cheered by Mike Tomasky’s suggestion that the Republican ticket has the makings of a disaster. My thoughts exactly.

Bring on the roasted potatoes!

Or roast potatoes as we call them in this house.

Sullivan is off the grid for a couple of weeks, proving it can be done, whereas Tomasky is still sneaking in posts while he’s officially on holiday.

In his absence Sullivan’s underbloggers are minding the shop. This turned up today

This is silly in a good way, even without the line about roasted potatoes that tickles my tubers. I gather from her Wikipedia page that Julia Child was much parodied and loved this Saturday Night Live sketch. I think she’d have enjoyed this. I just know I’m going to end up saying

Bring on the roasted potatoes

one of these days. Forget popcorn. A feast beckons. There may even be some meat.

The starter on special today is The Swiftboating of Mitt Romney disgraces Barack Obama.

The horn-honking, floppy-hatted clown show was predictable and few voters will ever see or care about The Economist’s bucket of water. But out-Roving Rove… who’d have thought the Democrats had it in them?

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