Support for Israel

July 9th, 2014

Dear President Obama,

When Palestinians kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers, Palestinians danced in the streets, and the terrorists were praised by PA officials. Rather than helping capture them, the PA facilitated their escape; they still have not been apprehended. Palestinians who expressed regret over the kidnapping received death threats.

In contrast, when Israelis kidnapped and murdered a Palestinian teenager, the act was universally condemned by Israeli leaders, and Israelis and Jews all over the world. The Israeli police quickly apprehended suspects and promised to bring them to justice. The families of the SUSPECTS received death threats.

THIS is why there is no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Not because of new housing built by Israel in “settlements.” Not because Israel defends itself. Not because of the security wall which shut off suicide bombings almost like a light switch. There is no peace because Israelis want to live, and Palestinians want to kill them.

Of course, that is a simplification. There are Israeli extremists, and there are Palestinian doves. But they are the exception that prove the rule.

My wife and I lived in Israel in 1995-6. We experienced first-hand the threat of violence experienced daily by Israelis: Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated and there were six suicide bombings during our time here.

I say “here” because I am currently vacationing with my family in Jerusalem. Last night, as the air-raid siren blared, we huddled with our five children in the safe room of our apartment, comforting them and praying silently for our safety and for that of the millions of others within reach of the rockets, as well as of the tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers who defend Israel and its people against these barbaric attacks.

Some day, a Palestinian leader will emerge who recognizes that only a lasting peace with Israel will secure the future of the Palestinian people. In the meantime, since peace is not being offered, Israel can do only one thing: defend itself and its citizens.

I call upon you and the entire U.S. government to clearly, consistently, unequivocally, and without hesitation condemn the ongoing attacks against Israel by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad; acknowledge and support Israel’s undeniable right to defend itself against those attacks; and provide Israel with the political, diplomatic, and material support it needs to put a stop to them.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kamens

[Also sent to Senator Warren, Senator Markey, and Representative Capuano.]

Olympics in Boston: Just Say No

July 7th, 2014

no_boston_olympics(I’ve just sent this letter, or a slightly tweaked version of it, to Mayor Walsh; Councilors Ciommo, Wu, Pressley, Flaherty, and Murphy; Senator Brownsberger; Representative Honan; Governor Patrick; Senators Warren and Markey; and Representative Capuano.)

Dear [title] [name],

I have lived in Boston since 1989. I have been a homeowner here, in Brighton, since 1997. My wife and I have five children, all of whom were born in Boston, and two of whom are in Boston Public Schools. We are Bostonians. And we absolutely, positively, do not want Boston to host the Olympics in 2024.

We do not have enough space. We do not have enough roadway capacity. We do not have enough public transportation capacity. We do not have enough housing capacity. We do not need to spend, literally, billions of dollars constructing facilities which will end up abandoned and unused after the party is over. We do not need years of construction disruption that will make the Big Dig look like a toddler digging in a sandbox.

Boston has nothing to prove; we are already a world-class city. Hosting the Olympics will in the end make us less so rather than more.

One cannot ignore the fact that the International Olympic Committee and Boston do have one thing in common: corrupt governance. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the head of the Boston Olympics exploratory committee, John Fish, is the CEO of a construction company that would earn billions in revenue were the Olympics to be hosted here. It is impossible to ignore the fact that our mayor is beholden to  the unions, whose members would also benefit financially from a Boston Olympics.

The problems I, and many others, foresee are hardly unique to Boston. In their current form, the Olympics don’t benefit ANY city, state, or country in which they are hosted. They have become bloated and corrupt, and this sickness will only begin to heal when the IOC can no longer find any city willing to host the Olympics in their current form.

For the good of Boston and the good of the Olympics, I implore you to oppose the effort to bring them to Boston in 2024.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kamens

My letter to the FCC about the open internet proposal

May 22nd, 2014

To: openinternet@fcc.gov
Subject: Internet must remain open

To the commissioners:

Those who object to regulating internet service providers to ensure an open internet, as the FCC is currently proposing to do, adhere to the rigid political philosophy that regulation, by definition, stifles competition, innovation, growth, etc.

However, this philosophy is only even theoretically true when there is real competition and an even playing field. Unfortunately, the plain fact of the matter is that when it comes to internet service, far too many consumers don’t benefit from either real competition or an even playing field. In those circumstances, not only does regulation not stifle growth, regulation is essential for growth.

More than 30% of Americans live in areas where internet service is a monopoly. This problem is getting worse, not better, as cable companies continue to merge, leading to fewer competitors with iron-fisted control over larger and larger swaths of territory. Allowing the massive internet providers to game the system even further by charging fees for better access to their networks, or by charging their customers for access to content from outside their network, e.g., by introducing bandwidth caps that exclude content produced by the internet provider, will cause consumers to be screwed over even more than they already are. How anyone can suggest otherwise for a straight face is incomprehensible.

Those who oppose classification of the internet as a Title II common carrier make hyperbolic references to how “backwards” Title II regulations and how we need to look toward the future rather than the past. The fact of the matter is that the strict regulations placed for many years on POTS providers are the only thing that ensured that every person in America has access to telephone service. That is exactly what is needed for internet service, which is why it should be classified as a Title II common carrier and aggressively regulated to bring fast internet to everyone, everywhere in the United States.

Those who claim that such regulation will force the large internet providers to raise their rates are blowing smoke. Comcast, for example, is raking in huge profits, literally at the expense of consumers, by providing legendarily poor service and charging ridiculously high prices. If its prices were regulated, as telephone prices were for many years, it would still make a profit, it just wouldn’t be able to fleece consumers quite as much as it can now.

Congress is completely dysfunctional and is almost completely incapable of passing any substantive consumer-protection legislation. If that means it falls on the FCC to figure out how to reinterpret the laws Congress has already passed to allow it to enact meaningful open-internet regulations that will protect consumers, then so be it. Godspeed and get to work.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kamens

Dear T-Mobile, thanks for wasting my time!

May 9th, 2014

Dear T-Mobile,

In my life, I am blessed in many ways. I have a wonderful family; I am part of several great communities; I have a good job I love with people I respect and learn from every day; I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat.

However, like many other people, the thing that is in shortest supply in my life is time. And the time I can’t afford most of all, the time that drives me crazier than anything else in my life, is the time I am forced to waste dealing with other people’s incompetence. And this is why I am writing to you today to register two complaints, one general and one painfully specific.

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“Beantown AutoMobile Detailing” vandalizes my car, refuses to clean it up

April 27th, 2014

On Wednesday night, April 16, 2014, after our minivan sat idle for two days while we celebrated the beginning of the holiday of Passover, I went out to run an errand and found a sodden, disintegrating advertisement from “Beantown AutoMobile [sic] Detailing” stuck between the driver’s side window and its lower rubber gasket. When I removed the ad, it unfortunately left a good chunk of itself behind, steadfastly stuck to the window:

IMG_20140416_202430

It had rained during the holiday, and the rain dissolved the ad, and then the rain dried, and what you see above was the result.

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Using Selenium to monitor Phone Power international call usage

April 20th, 2014

Back when I was using Vonage, I wrote and shared a Selenium script to alert me automatically if I was approaching my monthly usage limits.

Then I kicked Vonage to the curb and switched to using Google Voice plus an OBi202 box for my home phone service, lowering my monthly bill from around $14 for Vonage to $Free for Google Voice.

Alas, as of May 15, 2014, Google Voice is no longer going to work with my Obihai box, so I’m back to paying for VoIP. I decided on Phone Power‘s $5/month special offer (I have a sneaking suspicion it’s going to go up after the first year, but we’ll see) for former Obitalk Google Voice users. Alas, Phone Power has the same problem as Vonage — they let you view on your web site how many minutes you’ve used toward your quota of free monthly international minutes, but they don’t have any sort of automated alerts when you’re approaching your limit.

So I went ahead and tweaked my old Vonage Selenium script to work with Phone Power instead. For anyone who might find them useful, I’ve posted them in this public gist.

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How LastPass protects your data

April 10th, 2014

I’ve seen several people recently discussing how LastPass protects your LastPass master password and your encrypted site password data (a.k.a., your vault). If what some of those people were saying were true, then LastPass wouldn’t be as secure as I thought it was. This gave me pause, since I use LastPass to store all my passwords, so I decided to do some research to try to understand for myself exactly how it works. Now that I’ve done that, it seems to me that others might benefit from my research, and in any case writing it down will clarify it in my own mind, so here it is.

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Why you still shouldn’t use Vanguard Realty

April 9th, 2014

For many years, I’ve been working assiduously to rid my (postal) mailbox of junk mail. The ongoing damage to the environment caused by the many tons of junk mail sent every day to people who don’t even bother to look at it is offensive, and want nothing to do with it.

I wrote back in 2011 about Frank Shaw at Vanguard Realty, a local Realtor who simply refused, despite my repeated requests, to stop sending me junk mail.

Since then, I’ve made two additional requests to other employees of the office to stop sending me junk mail, but it has not helped — I’ve received at least eight more mailings from Vanguard Realty, the most recent one just yesterday. (That most recent mailing, incidentally, engaged in the time-honored junk-mailer tradition of using a completely blank envelope with no return address, a transparent attempt to trick the recipient into opening something that they would otherwise throw away unopened.)

These mailings aren’t just paper. Mr. Shaw insists on sending me refrigerator magnets once or twice a year with the Patriots or Red Sox season schedule on them. Those is even worse for the environment than paper junk mail, and anybody who knows me knows that I have absolutely no use for them.

I’ve received junk mail from numerous other real-estate agents over the years, and most of them have been both willing and able to stop sending it when asked. Vanguard Realty’s failure to do so is indicative of either incompetence or a marked lack of respect for the people from whose business they wish to profit. Therefore, if you’re looking for a real-estate agent, I reiterate the recommendation I posted in 2001 that you choose someone else.

We need a “/heartbleed.txt” standard, and we need it ASAP

April 9th, 2014

Heartbleed LogoThose of us who help create and maintain “the internet” that everyone benefits from are now tasked with helping the world recover with one of the biggest, if not the biggest, security holes in the history of the internet.

To be certain they aren’t vulnerable, users need to change their passwords at every site that was at any point vulnerable to a Heartbleed attack. But a site has to be patched, and its SSL certificate has to be reissued with a newly generated secret key, before its password should be changed; otherwise, the new password is just as vulnerable to Heartbleed as the old one was. What’s more, you can’t just look at the start date of an SSL certificate to determine whether it was reissued, because that doesn’t tell you whether the site was patched before the certificate was deployed, and worse than that, some CAs (e.g., Digicert) quite reasonably re-key certificates without changing their original start dates.

I have passwords at over 500 sites. I’m sure there are people who use many more sites than that. Manually figuring out which sites need their passwords changed, and when to change them, and keeping track of which ones have been changed, is an impossible task.

What we need is a standard, widely adopted way for web sites to indicate, in a way that can be easily interpreted by software, whether they were ever vulnerable to Heartbleed, and if so, when the vulnerability was patched. Then browsers and password keepers such as LastPass can easily determine and track which user passwords need to be changed, and warn the user.

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How not to run a computer security company

March 20th, 2014