FBI Blew $1m Hacking an iPhone – For Nothing!



Something needs to be done to reign in U.S. intelligence agencies – particularly when they act totally unintelligently. Example: The FBI just blew more than $1 million to hack the iPhone used by San Bernardo shooter Syed Rizwan Farook in an attempt to tie him to some terrorist plot beyond the one he and his wife cooked up. The result: Nada. Nothing – of value – was learned.

Not even, would you believe, how to hack an iPhone a couple of months, weeks or days from now, after Apple has tightened the security even more than it already was.

The Wall Street Journal quoted FBI director James Comey, who’s lied to the American people and to Congress in the past, as saying that expenditure “was worth it.” A Reuters report said Comey noted that sum of taxpayers’ dollars was “a lot —  more than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months for sure.”

In 1789, in the year before his death, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy that, “‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” We can only hope that’s true of the term of James Comey.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on October 22, 2015 (see minutes 13:00-16:00 and 19:09-19:12) he declares that the assorted agencies charged with one or another aspect of the country’s security “use, collect and share intelligence in everything we do” – supposedly “better” since 9/11 than earlier, but, as the evidence shows, they seem to do so no more intelligently, or in any more an appropriately coordinated fashion, or much (if any) more successfully than was the case before 9/11.

How hard is it, really, to keep track of individuals who, for whatever reason, are on the FBI ‘watch’ list – who, for whatever reason, are considered to fit a profile of someone with harmful intents on the country? Apparently way harder than the modern-day FBI is capable of.

Comey argues that it is necessary for the FBI to be able to break or bypass encryption of private communications between citizens to further the cause of … what, freedom? One arguing against that view is Gen. Michael Hayden, the retired head of the U.S. National Security Agency, and he said as much as a conference on security issues in Miami Beach.

“I disagree with [FBI director] Jim Comey,” Hayden said in a speech. “I actually think end-to-end encryption is good for America.”

Before the bureau was shown the pricey method, investigators had claimed the phone could only be accessed with Apple’s assistance, The Hill reported. The Justice Department obtained a court order directing the tech giant to help unlock the phone, setting off a high-profile standoff when Apple refused.

Apple insisted that complying would set a dangerous precedent that would allow the government to ask other companies to intentionally undermine their security features, imperiling global digital security and online privacy.

The FBI countered that its request was narrowly tailored to the case at hand.

The court battle sparked a heated debate on Capitol Hill, as some lawmakers jumped to Apple’s defense, while others called on the Silicon Valley stalwart to help law enforcement.

The government eventually dropped its court order after purchasing the intrusion method from third-party hackers.

But because of the exorbitant costs to this approach, the FBI has said it cannot rely on paying outside hackers to get around secure devices.

“These solutions are very case-by-case specific,” said Amy Hess, the FBI’s executive assistant director for science and technology, during a House hearing this week.

“They’re very dependent on the fragility of the system,” she added. “And also they’re very time intensive and resource intensive, which may not be scalable.”


I will be very appreciative if you will encourage your friends, family and colleagues to check out what my two blogs – Food TradeTrends.com and YouSayWhat.info – do in the interest of providing information you might, otherwise, never become aware of. You never know: Some of my research could prove useful, or possibly amusing, to you (and/or them).

I also encourage you to check out the blogs of people I am following and Commotion In The Pews, a blog I stumbled upon a year or so ago. The author of the latter is a fascinating guy who cultivates the appearance of the character he plays through a good part of December each year: Santa Claus.

Homeless, He Spots Jail Escapees, Gets $100k Reward


Homeless people, despite having not a lot they need to do, often follow fairly strict routines. Some of them say it keeps them sane. Sometimes a routine can do a lot more than that.

Matthew Hay-Chapman, who lived for a while in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, was following his routine one day in late January – a stop at the restroom at a Whole Foods store (“They have good restrooms,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle a few days later), then a stroll to a nearby McDonald’s.

Before going in for his coffee, he picked up a copy of the Chronicle from a vending machine, and started reading the news. An article about a jailbreak in Santa Ana, a town more than 300 miles south, near Los Angeles, caught his eye. Then he caught sight of a white van similar to one he’d once lived in. He noticed the windows were thick with condensation, suggesting to him, from his experience working in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) field, that someone was living in this van.

Soon, someone emerged from the van, and Hay-Chapman recognized a face he’d just seen in The Chronicle. It was one of the escapees.

It was his civic duty, he thought, to notify the police.

He did.

They caught two of the three men who’d escaped from the Orange County jail.

A reward had been offered by that county, and county officials were only too pleased to give him the lion’s share of it: $100,000. The balance of the $200,000  reward was split among several others who, in one way or another, contributed to authorities being able to locate and recapture the escapees.

Hay-Chapman, who says he reads The Chronicle every day (“It’s my favorite paper,” he told a reporter), intends to use the money to get his life back in order and to help his daughter, who is handicapped, and his son, who is battling substance abuse, the paper reported on March 16, a few days before Matthew is due to get his check.

Chances are that sweet taste in his mouth isn’t from sugar in his coffee!

FIRE! But Can the Fire Truck Get There?



FIRE! But Can the Fire Truck Get There?



In the late ‘80’s, a workmate who also was a volunteer fireman in his small, Long Island (NY) town, asked if I had any idea why fire departments keep asking for bigger, more versatile trucks. I had no clue.

“It’s for the parades,” he said, referring to the widespread practice in suburban New York (and many other areas) for towns to have parades in which various fire departments from nearby (and sometimes some distance away) towns participate. Naturally enough – common sense and cost issues aside – crews from many of those towns wanted to have ‘bragging rights’ for the biggest and/or noisiest trucks around. Many probably still do.

But for a couple of interesting reasons, it soon may not just practical but necessary for fire trucks to shrink in size. A fascinating comparison of two fire trucks, an American-made KME Kovatch and a Swedish-built Volvo, showed that in one potentially-critical way, the Volvo would be the better choice in the growing number of cities opting for narrower traffic lanes.

The comparison was conducted at RAF Lakenheath, a Royal Air Force station that is home to the U.S. Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing in Europe. The two trucks’ acceleration, pumping power, noise level, rescue capabilities, and maneuverability in both forward and in reverse were matched against each other.

Obviously, the makeup and training of crews come into play in some of those comparisons, but in both forward and reverse, the Volvo proved to be more maneuverable – meaning, in effect, it can do more in tighter spaces, such as narrow traffic lanes and, presumably, driveways and alleyways. On an airport runway at Lakenheath, traffic cones were used to mark off lanes and areas to be maneuvered through, and the truck knocking over the fewest cones was the winner.

The trucks’ comparative sizes was significant, in a situation where turning radiuses were relatively narrow, in a typical European way, so the bigger American truck was at a disadvantage. It also was at a disadvantage because, in order to increase the driver’s ability to see more, over a broader area, he sits more than 1.6 feet (half a meter) higher than the Volvo’s driver – meaning the KME driver is less able to see what’s close beside, in front of or to the rear of his truck.

(An area where it appeared the crew’s training played an important role was in comparing the trucks’ pumping power – how much water could quickly be directed at a given spot. The test involved attacking with water two brick walls, custom build, identically, of course, for this competition.

(The American team went first, and left a few bricks standing – because, as a British team member noted, the Yanks attacked the center of the wall, causing some knocked-over bricks to fall straight backward, blocking others that might have subsequently been felled. The Brits went at first one then the other end of the wall, and worked inward toward the center. This approach enabled them to knock all the bricks over.)

How large are fire trucks? Amherst, Massachusetts, has very conveniently provided a chart showing the dimensions of the several types their fire department employs. The largest, an aerial platform, is 48 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 12 feet high. The smallest, an ambulance, is 14’ 6” long, 9 feet wide, and 9’ 4” high.

There is a road passage under a rail line near my home with a height clearance of 11 feet and a few inches. To get from one side to the other of that underpass, a fire truck the size of Amherst’s large aerial platform would have to take a detour – a roundabout route adding a few extra miles and a potentially-critical few extra minutes to its trip. And that would be complicated by the fact that, at one point, the truck would have to virtually reverse back on its course as it rounded a switch from one road to another – a heartrendingly slow turn for a driver really really anxious to get to a fire scene. Then, the truck would have to pass over two railroad tracks, via a passage with clear warning signs that uncommonly long vehicles could, because of the steep up and down angles of the crossing, get stuck – probably on one of the tracks that, well over 20 times a day, are traversed by freight trains close to or more than a mile long, each weighing, perhaps, 143 tons  (roughly 22 tons of car and roughly more than 100 tons of freight), for a total of, say, something like 20,000 tons, or 40 million pounds, including three engines, on a 135-car train. (See the two-year-old entry, at the cited web site, by Aurilika.)

Road Widths Vs. Fire Trucks

The website of NACTO, The National Association of City Transportation Officials (who knew?) is a font of seldom-considered (except by that group’s members) issues having to do with road widths and a lot more. Their considerations of lane widths factor in a number of issues, including – hardly surprisingly – the ability of fire trucks to get where they are needed as quickly as possible.

This is not, as we’re all aware, a perfect world, and there is no perfect solution to the lane width issue. But NACTO discussions on the issue have, perhaps, more levels of logic behind them than anyone else’s. They say this:

The relationships between lane widths and vehicle speed is complicated by many factors, including time of day, the amount of traffic present, and even the age of the driver. Narrower streets help promote slower driving speeds which, in turn, reduce the severity of crashes. Narrower streets have other benefits as well, including reduced crossing distances, shorter signal cycles, less storm water, and less construction material to build.

The width allocated to lanes for motorists, buses, trucks, bikes, and parked cars is a sensitive and crucial aspect of street design. Lane widths should be considered within the assemblage of a given street delineating space to serve all needs, including travel lanes, safety islands, bike lanes, and sidewalks.

Each lane width discussion should be informed by an understanding of the goals for traffic calming as well as making adequate space for larger vehicles, such as trucks and buses.

But, the website citylab.com suggests, “The problem with wider urban streets, as Jeff Speck has argued [in a brilliant and highly information article, with equally interesting embedded links], is that they encourage faster driving and can lead to deadlier collisions. And science backs up his argument: a 2015 study of intersections in Toronto and Tokyo found that lower crash rates were linked to lanes measuring 10- to 10.5-feet wide rather than to 12-feet-wide lanes. As Scott Wiener, a member of San Francisco Board of Supervisors, wrote in 2014: “[Prioritizing] fire truck access in a way that makes streets less safe for pedestrians and other users—and which undermines neighborhood fabric with high-volume, fast-moving traffic—isn’t the right solution.”

An article on the website fireapparatusmagazine.com points out the complexities of this issue. An interesting reference in that article references Todd Nix, apparatus consultant for Unruh Fire, a truck manufacturer, who says his company sees requests from a lot of fire departments for “smaller-size pumpers they can take into areas full-size vehicles wouldn’t fit, to run over small bridges where heavier vehicles couldn’t cross, or under overpasses and overhangs where there are a lot of trees.”

Appropriately, Unruh Fire is on the forefront of offering trucks that significantly smaller than those needed to fight fires but can assist on fire-fighting runs. These are considered to be ‘rescue trucks,’ not to rescue people, a task EMS crews are more suited to handle, but to do a whole lot of other things. (Watch the video. It’s an eye-opener!)

Grady North, product manager for pumpers, tankers and ARFF (airport rescue firefighting) at E-One, another rescue equipment maker, says geography has something to do, so far, with where smaller pumpers are being sold. Sales are stronger in the West and Midwest than in the South or East, he said.

“More people [overall] want to get the customer pumper wheelbase down [to] around 170 inches, which seems to be the magic point for a shorter vehicle with better maneuverability,” he told the magazine.  Than shorter-than-the-traditional wheelbase means, he said, an operation “is able to maneuver well in cul-de-sacs and on narrower streets with tighter turning tighter areas.”

North stressed that, “It takes both numbers {the wheelbase and an overall length of less than 30 feet] to accomplish that maneuverability — shorter and overall length — where you hold the overall length so the swing and drag dimensions are kept in check.”

Tech speak, extending to TMI – too much information.

But you get the point: Subtle changes are occurring in street design and in the design of vehicles able to maneuver through sometimes tighter spaces.

While that might have been said in a couple of hundred words, this 1500+ word version gives you an opportunity to acknowledge that forces are at work, in private industry and government, to make you safer in seldom-considered situations.