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Botched CIA Communications System Helped Blow Cover of Chinese Agents

S Aufrecht

It was considered one of the CIA’s worst failures in decades: Over a two-year period starting in late 2010, Chinese authorities systematically dismantled the agency’s network of agents across the country, executing dozens of suspected U.S. spies. […]

When CIA officers begin working with a new source, they often use an interim covert communications system—in case the person turns out to be a double agent. […]

This interim, or “throwaway,” system, an encrypted digital program, allows for remote communication between an intelligence officer and a source, but it is also separated from the main communications system used with vetted sources, reducing the risk if an asset goes bad. […]

In the words of one of the former officials, the CIA had “fucked up the firewall” …

—Zach Dorfman, Foreign Policy1

  1. Dorfman, Zach. (2018-Aug-15) Botched CIA Communications System Helped Blow Cover of Chinese Agents. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from

Obesity: We’re doing it wrong

S Aufrecht

For 60 years, doctors and researchers have known two things that could have improved, or even saved, millions of lives. The first is that diets do not work. … 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and … two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost. The reasons are biological and irreversible. …. Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.

The second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. … anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy. …. Meanwhile, about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy.” …

Lesley Williams, a family medicine doctor in Phoenix, tells me she gets an alert from her electronic health records software every time she’s about to see a patient who is above the “overweight” threshold. The reason for this is that physicians are often required, in writing, to prove to hospital administrators and insurance providers that they have brought up their patient’s weight and formulated a plan to bring it down—regardless of whether that patient came in with arthritis or a broken arm or a bad sunburn. Failing to do that could result in poor performance reviews, low ratings from insurance companies or being denied reimbursement if they refer patients to specialized care. …

“A lot of my job is helping people heal from the trauma of interacting with the medical system,” says Ginette Lenham, a counselor who specializes in obesity. The rest of it, she says, is helping them heal from the trauma of interacting with everyone else. …

“These findings suggest the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight,” the study concluded, “is more harmful than actually being overweight.” …

Diet is the leading cause of death in the United States …

All of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety get thrown off by eating foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber and injected with additives. And which now, shockingly, make up 60 percent of the calories we eat. …

Participants who got more than 12 sessions with a dietician saw significant reductions in their rates of prediabetes and cardiovascular risk. Those who got less personalized care showed almost no improvement at all. …

The United States spends $1.5 billion on nutrition research every year compared to around $60 billion on drug research. Just 4 percent of agricultural subsidies go to fruits and vegetables. No wonder that the healthiest foods can cost up to eight times more, calorie for calorie, than the unhealthiest …

The most effective health interventions aren’t actually health interventions—they are policies that ease the hardship of poverty and free up time for movement and play and parenting.

—Michael Hobbes, Huffington Post Highline1

  1. Hobbes, Michael. (2018-Sep-19). Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong. Huffington Post Highline. Retrieved from

Vision Zero

S Aufrecht

On Temple Street, where 34 people were killed or severely injured within 2.3 miles in eight years, a “road diet” expected to reduce crashes by up to 47% met backlash from residents and drivers. Local city leaders downgraded lane removals to things that wouldn’t interfere with motor traffic: sidewalk repairs, new traffic signals and crosswalks.

Road deaths rose rather than falling, increasing 80% in two years. Then state legislators chose to increase speed limits on LA’s High Injury Network roads. […]

Policing is too often a major stumbling block for Vision Zero improvements – not least in New York, where 66% of fatal crashes were caused by unsafe speed, driver inattention or distraction, failure to yield, traffic control disregard or drunk driving– in other words, risk-taking behaviour by drivers. […]

“The fundamental issue in America is that almost anywhere they try to implement Vision Zero, almost everyone in those cities drives. They aren’t willing to be slowed down, they object, and the politicians refuse to do anything that’s going to make drivers angry.”

[Altar] believes Vision Zero needs stronger wording similar to the Stop de Kindermoord movement in 1970s Dutch cities. “We should rename it ‘Stop Murdering Our Kids’ …

—Laura Laker, The Guardian1

  1. Laker, Laura. (2018-Sep-17) Vision Zero: has the drive to eliminate road deaths lost its way? *The Guardian. Retrievew from

Revenge, much like calamari, is a dish best served cold

S Aufrecht

I gave up my scholarship and dropped out of Yale, cut off communication with my friends and moved (with a suitcase of miniskirts and record albums I was forbidden to play) back to my home state of New Hampshire to be with him. Seven months later, during a trip we’d taken to Florida, with words as devastating as they had once been captivating and entrancing, he put two $50 bills in my hand and instructed me to return to New Hampshire, clear my things out of his house and disappear.

Believing Salinger to be the most spiritually elevated man I would ever know, I accepted his assessment of me as unworthy, and for the next quarter-century I barely spoke of my experience …

—Joyce Maynard1

An amazing essay.

  1. Maynard, Joyce. (2018-Sep-05) Was She J.D. Salinger’s Predator or His Prey? The New York Times. Retrieved from

Blockchain Berkeley

S Aufrecht

“We have at least 1,400 homeless people in our city, and that includes many right here at UC Berkeley,” Bartlett told the class. “So how can we use blockchain to fund a new prosperity? That’s a challenge I’d like you to take on.”


  1. Gonser, Sarah. The Latest Course Catalog Trend? Blockchain 101. (2018-Sep-17) Wired. Retrieved from

Making a big red button

S Aufrecht
I made a big red button.  When pushed, it locks my computer.

I made a big red button. When pushed, it locks my computer.


  1. Screw the retaining ring and washer to the big red button base through the hole of the lid, and attach the switch mechanism at the bottom.
  2. Drill a hole, slightly bigger than the USB cable (so around 3 mm in diameter) through the middle of the knockout circle on the side of the box.
  3. Thread the wire end of the PCSensor USB cable through the hole from the outside in.
  4. Leaving a reasonable amount of slack inside the box, tie a knot in the cable to catch the tension of any cable yanks. This is the least good way to do this, but the wires take only a simple open-closed signal and don't connect to anything delicate.
  5. Screw the two wire leads into the cable posts. I had to strip some of the outer wire to make it fit and inner wires to expose enough meta. It doesn't matter which wire is which.
  6. Close the box.



The PCSensor cable comes with a Windows program to reprogram which key is sent when the cable circuit is closed. If you have Windows and this program works for you, program the cable to whatever button combo locks your screen, which for Windows is ⊞-L (Windows key-L). You are now done with this project.


If you can reprogram the button in Windows to Ctrl-Alt-L, you are done.

If you don’t have access to a Windows computer, or if the program fails to work, as it failed for me and for many people on the internet, read on to learn how to hack around this problem: For me, the cable types the letter x whenever the circuit is closed, but it shouldn’t matter which letter it types; this hack will take any input from the device and produce the key stroke we want, which will be the F13 key. You almost certainly don’t have an F13 key on your keyboard, so we are free to map this key to anything we want. To do this, we need to intercept the signal from the PCSensor USB connection before it is transformed into a keystroke. We do this by creating a custom udev rule.

  1. As root, create the file /etc/udev/hwdb.d/99-redbutton.hwdb with these contents:
  2. Rebuild the hwdb database:
    sudo systemd-hwdb update
    sudo udevadm trigger
  3. Use your desktop shortcut settings to have F13 trigger whatever you want.


I used these instructions1 to create the file above. If that doesn’t work, it may be because your hardware doesn’t exactly match what I used.

  1. First, make sure that the button is wired up and the PCSensor cable is working. To test, use a program like xev to see if anything is typed when the button is pressed.
  2. See if your Bus, Vendor, Product are different from the provided hwdb script above.
    $ cat /proc/bus/input/devices 
    And find the block that corresponds to your PCSensor cable. Clues to finding it:
    • It's the last entry
    • It's the only one with a cryptic Name
    • It has the same Vendor ID, 413d.
    I: Bus=0003 Vendor=413d Product=2107 Version=0111
    N: Name="HID 413d:2107"
    P: Phys=usb-0000:04:00.0-2.1/input0
    S: Sysfs=/devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:07.0/0000:04:00.0/usb10/10-2/10-2.1/10-2.1:1.0/0003:413D:2107.003E/input/input54
    U: Uniq=
    H: Handlers=sysrq kbd mouse2 event7 leds js0 
    B: PROP=0
    B: EV=12001f
    B: KEY=3007f 0 0 483ffef17aff32d bf54444600000000 ff000000070001 130c130b17c007 ffbf7bfad9415fff febeffdfffefffff fffefffffffffffe
    B: REL=103
    B: ABS=100000003
    B: MSC=10
    B: LED=7
    Compare the highlighted Bus, Vendor, and Product codes to the highlighted codes in the script, and change if necessary. Don't forget to rebuild the hwdb database before testing.
  3. See if your keycode is different. Using the event# number from the previous command, do sudo evtest /dev/input/event7. Push the big red button and get the value from the MSC_SCAN event:
    Event: time 1537591591.694406, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
    Event: time 1537591594.718043, type 4 (EV_MSC), code 4 (MSC_SCAN), value 70005
    Event: time 1537591594.718043, type 1 (EV_KEY), code 45 (KEY_X), value 1
    Event: time 1537591594.718043, -------------- SYN_REPORT ------------
    Make sure this number matches the KEYBOARD_KEY_##### line in the hwdb file.
  4. If it still isn't working, go to yulistic's instructions and start at the top.

Bill of Materials

Item Notes Cost
PCSensor USB line switch cable This was a reasonable at the price, even though the reprogramming program doesn't work. $16
30mm Red Push Button box This was worth it; it's a very nice box that I'll use for other projects. It will fit a Raspberry Pi Zero below the button. $21
Plastic 30 mm Panel-Mount Push-Button Switch, Mushroom, Momentary I way overspent on this button. It works fine but it's just plastic, and doesn't have an especially satisfying push-feel. If I needed another one, I would shop around for cheaper and springier/clickier. $36

Costs include tax and shipping.

  1. yulistic. Linux keymapping with udev hwdb. (8 Dec 2017) Slow & Steady. Retrieved from

Hindsight on the J.D. Drew signing

S Aufrecht

Dodger fans will be interested to learn that Drew is projected to win more games than Beltre in the next five years, and at a substantial discount. (29.1 wins vs 28.2; $40mil vs $57mil).

Drew was worth 17.7 wins and Beltre, 15.9. So those projections were … relatively correct but absolutely not so good? The Mariners paid for Beltre’s theoretical peak, ages 26 to 30, and they still got a decent deal. But Beltre resumed his Hall-of-Fame-level production immediately after: the best of his five Mariner years was not as good as the worst of his next five years, 2010–2014, ages 31 to 35.


S Aufrecht

is a license plate I saw recently. On a Mazda. Okay.

AMP is bad

S Aufrecht

With the goal of assisting site owners in improving page load time for mobile visitors, Google launched the AMP project in 2015. Google has been aggressive in pushing adoption via the open-source community, working with platform plugin developers as well as providing large brand sites with developer resources to implement the technology.

—Search Engine Land1


… AMP allows Google to basically take over hosting the web as well. The Google AMP Cache will serve AMP pages instead of a website’s own hosting environment, and also allow Google to perform their own optimisations to further enhance user experience.

As a side benefit, it also allows Google full control over content monetisation.

Which interpretation is more convincing?

—Barry Adams2

Why AMP is so fast:

Here we are on Google Search on mobile. … We scroll down in the results, in the bottom you can start to see the “Scientias” article …

At this moment, the network panel fills up with resources from that AMP page. Pretty much anything that page needs to render is preloaded, whether you actually open it not. If you do, it’s going to render instantly.

Not in 2–8s. Instantly. Technically, a clever trick. It’s hard to argue with that. Yet I consider it cheating and anti competitive behavior.

—Ferdy Christant3

  1. Robbins, Michelle. (2018-Feb-05 11:00 am). The need for speed: Google dedicates engineering team to accelerate development of WordPress ecosystem. Search Engine Land. Retrieved from
  2. Adams, Barry. (2018-Sep-05). Google AMP Can Go To Hell. Polemic Digital. Retrieved from
  3. Christant, Ferdy (2018-Feb-09). AMP: the missing controversy. Retrieved from

His Sh*t’s F***ed Up

S Aufrecht

“Warren said, ‘We have to go into show-biz mode,’” his manager Brigette Barr says in Crystal Zevon’s hair-raising 2007 book, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon. “‘I’m giving you permission to use my illness in any way that you see fit to further my career right now.’”1

… when he got sober, he kept apologizing for a specific instance when he struck Crystal, giving her a black eye, which made her resentful. Why didn’t he say sorry for all of the other times he hit me? And then she realized that he had been too drunk to remember those other instances.

I found the anecdotes about Zevon very informative, but I think the author (Steven Hyden) works from invalid premises:

What does a person who is moved deeply by “Reconsider Me” think when he hears this story? Sometimes, I can’t get over Warren Zevon being a bad father. Other times, I marvel at the romanticism required to believe that playing a song, even one as gorgeous as “Reconsider Me,” would have actually worked in that situation, and I’m unexpectedly moved all over again.

The issue is not whether the power of love should overcome the obstacles to a successful relationship and family that Zevon’s horrible behavior imposed. It’s whether the manifestation of that ‘power of love’ is that Zevon changes and makes amends, or that he gets what he wants without having to. Which is narcissism, not romanticism.

Hyden seems to think that we now want “unambiguous virtue” just as a fad, that we’re lowering hemlines and raising necklines … No, we’re actually listening to women and considering that their problems matter. Zevon was “shy and introspective”? You don’t say. I have never seen a woman be able to use “shy and introspective” as an excuse for anything, much less becoming a blackout wife-beating drunk. … I was supposed to be focused on Zevon’s bond with Letterman, but all I could think was that here was someone else who has never paid any public price for his treatment of women.2

  1. Hyden, Steven. (2018-Sep-07). His Sh*t’s F***ed Up: The Complicated Legacy of Warren Zevon. The Ringer. Retrieved from
  2. Countess Elena. (2018-Sep-08 8:44 AM). Comment on The Highest Ever IQ Recorded in Fresno. MetaFilter. Retrieved from

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