Archive for December, 2005

A Response From the NSA

No, really.

National Security Agency
Central Security Service
Fort George G. Meade, Maryland 20750-6000

PA Case: nnnnn
20 December 2005

Nemo
Address, et cetera

Dear Nemo;

This responds to your 19 December 2005 Privacy Act (PA) request, which was received in this office on 19 December 2005, for a copy of all records this Agency maintains on you. Your request has been processed under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the PA. A search of our most comprehensive filing systems which include applicant, personnel, security, and training was conducted but no records were located on you. In addition, there are no fees associated with the processing of your case since your request meets the requirements of the PA for which there are no fees.

For your information, NSA is authorized by law to collect only foreign intelligence information; therefore, we would not expect to find responsive records on U.S. citizens. Personnel management files, however, are maintained on NSA/CSS affiliates, e.g. personnel and security files. Our records reflect that you have never been affiliated with this Agenct; thus, no records were located.

Not exactly a surprise. Still, the letter would make a nice conversation piece… if I had a coffee table.

Darn fast response, I might add. I emailed them a PGP-signed request on the 19th, and received a response – dated the 20th – on the 28th.

Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on December 27th, 2005 | 3 Comments »

Cats and the Holidays

Screw Bill O’Reilly; you know who the holiday season is really for?

Cats.

What other time of the year do they get big, climbable scratching posts with all kinds of neat toys hanging from them? What other time of the year do they get ribbons and bows and piles of crumpled paper to play with? What other time of the year do people cover their kitchen table in delectable bits of finger-food… and then retire to another room for hours on end?

Sure, you might think the holidays are all about crass commercialism and false piety, but no, my friend, the holidays were clearly created by our feline masters as something to liven up their otherwise dull and dreary winters.

Published in: General | on December 23rd, 2005 | No Comments »

The NSA isn’t all bad…

Concerned, in light of recent events, that the NSA might have a file on you? Well, it turns out the NSA makes it really easy to file a Privacy Act request about yourself. How easy? If you have a PGP or GPG key, or other way of creating a meaningful electronic signiature, you can email them your request. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

As far as I know, the NSA – perhaps understandably – is the first – so far, only – federal agency that accepts digital signiatures in lieu of holographic signiatures for Privacy Act requests.

If you don’t have PGP or GPG, go get one – or both! In this day and age, there’s really no excuse not to have, and use, a public-key cryptosystem for, at the very least, email. Encryption has come a long way in the last couple years; the old horribly complicated command-line-only programs have been joined by a number of extraordinarily user-friendly pieces of software that integrate smoothly with various popular mailreaders.

Even if you don’t think you have any pressing need for encryption – even if you believe that honest men have nothing to fear from their, or other, governments, you should still get – and use! – cryptographic software. Why?

Because you still can.

Update: You can see the NSA’s response to my PA request here. Most people’s responses will be identical, I expect.

Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on December 19th, 2005 | 4 Comments »

Friday Cat Blogging

From my cats to yours:

Mrow mow meow mao? Mep. Mraw, mow meu ao ow, mow mow miau. Mip map moah, Bill O’Reilly, hssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!

Happy Holidays!

Published in: General | on December 16th, 2005 | No Comments »

Amvona’s Umbrelsoft II Umbrella

Amvona bill their Umbrelsoft II as a “soft box style umbrella”. It’s a neat idea, but, hype aside, it’s a silver umbrella with a diffuser over it.

In the case of the Umbrelsoft II, it’s a poorly-made silver umbrella with a poorly-made diffuser over it. For a ludicrous $195 “list price”, and a “wholesale” price of $65, I’d expect a pretty well-made piece of equipment. It’s not. In all areas – material quality, fit and finish, overall design – it comes up inferior to el-cheapo $20 no-name umbrellas. I picked mine up on eBay for about $20, and consider that a pretty fair price for the flimsiness you get. I pity any poor fool who paid full “wholesale”, though.

I’m sure it works reasonably well. It just looks and feels like a piece of garbage, and however well – or poorly – it performs, I have no great confidence that it’ll do so for any reasonable amount of time… like six months, even.

Face it, there’s a reason they sell these things super-cheap on auction sites – they are super cheap, in every sense of the word. Caveat emptor, eh?

Published in: Geekiness, General | on December 15th, 2005 | 2 Comments »