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Boat Fire!

Explosion and then Fire!

About 2:30 this afternoon Shelly heard an explosion and we saw this boat fire in the boatyard across the harbor. This is the second one we’ve seen.

It isn’t one from the regatta. Day 2 was similar to day 1, they do several 30 minute races over the course of a day. Each boat has a racing crew that practice and race together. Trophys were awarded on day two.

And that is that.


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Regatta Day 1

Prepping to Sail Out Of Slip

Today there was an invitation-only sailboat race starting at the marina. Six identical boats were lined up in the slip next to ours and sailed out (no motors on these guys) into 20 knot winds to the east.

At the Starting Line!

They all gathered in the starting area in semi-rough conditions. I was impressed they were able to gather so close together under sail power only. They took off around a preset course

Racing Downwind with Genoas Out


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Sharing “Cyber Secrets” with Russia?

Is There A Problem with This?

Yesterday Reuters had a headline article about how western tech firms share cyber secrets with Russia in order to sell their products in Russia. You can read the article here.

In my opinion: This is a sensationalized story written to fit in with the times. Here’s why:

  • Western tech firms are not intentionally “sharing” cyber secrets.
  • Tech companies will do essentially anything it takes to gain entry into a lucrative market. Always have, always will.
  • Security functionality should only depend on a small set of secrets, such as a key that cannot be examined by anyone. Encryption algorithms, authentication techniques and security functions should not rely on being secret and as a matter of fact, if they are it is viewed as a bad implementation.

The Reuters story focuses on the current boogeyman country Russia, and mentions China. The Chinese government has an arguably tighter grip on the Chinese economy, is far more paranoid than Russia and is at least as aggressive in cyber spying. The Chinese market is so large that western companies will bend over backward to get into it. Here is an example:

All PCs have a little crypto processor called a Trusted Platform Module, or TPM. If you’ve ever used Microsoft Bitlocker, you’ve used the TPM on your machine. The TPM implements security algorithms developed by open standards committees, everyone knows what goes on in a TPM (or could know if they wanted).

China doesn’t like the TPM because they either don’t trust westerners to develop secure algorithms, and probably because the TPM has no backdoors, or ways for the government to get around the encryption. More specifically, the Chinese don’t like the security algorithms in the TPM.

Ok, now a PC maker doesn’t want to make a special motherboard for China only, or change their software to operate differently in China. You know what the solution was?

China devised their own TPM algorithms and had western PC makers put those algorithms in the Chinese market TPM instead of the open standards algorithms. The suspicion in the security community is that these algorithms have backdoors that only the Chinese government is aware of.

Western PC manufacturers will happily follow the Chinese government rules and implant spy devices on PCs meant for China. Most companies would be staunchly opposed to this suggestion from the U.S. government, arguing that they don’t exist to manufacture spy devices for the government. Yet that is what happens in China.

What is going on in Russia is nothing new, except apparently importing to Russia becoming more strict. You really can’t blame the Russians (or anyone else) for worrying about backdoors in western-built products, the stories about the NSA implanting secret access have been all over the internet. Companies are usually open to having a “trusted third party” examine their code and products to ensure no backdoors are present. This is not “sharing secrets” as the third party is severely limited in what they can disclose.

The Reuters article pointed out that Symantec ceased allowing code inspections because they did not trust the trusted third party, probably for good reason. The fear is that the third party was actually looking for security vulnerabilities as an agent for the Russian government. Indeed, if the third party is not trusted, the procedure does not work.

BUT, the interest of western companies is heavily weighted to protecting intellectual property rather than worrying about vulnerabilities in code. That is more likely the reason Symantec dropped out of the program. They are, after all, in the software security industry and if their code was broken well then their business is ruined. So in their case, hidden vulnerabilities are, in a sense, intellectual property to be protected.

Personally, I’d be happier if the U.S. government required such code inspection on imported products. We know spyware is implanted in Chinese-made items. This would simply become consumer protection, hey you can spy on your customers but at least disclose it. I doubt it’s practical, though, given the vast number of imported products to the U.S. and the dearth of interest in the government to seriously protect cyber infrastructure.


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Need for Federal Laws Regarding Handling of Personal Data

Are you worried about government agencies spying on you?

Well, that isn’t the only problem you should be concerned about in this area:

“Detailed information on nearly every U.S. voter — including in some cases their ethnicity, religion and views on political issues — was left exposed online for two weeks by a political consultancy which works for the Republican National Committee and other GOP clients.”

Read this.

Less than a century ago, this kind of information could land someone in a concentration camp, thus the EU has fairly strong data privacy laws today. Not so in the U.S.

It can be done. Laws have been made in the past, such as HIPAA laws that protect medical data. Unfortunately, the most powerful corporations in the world are dead set against such laws so there is a huge barrier to overcome.

 


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The Tropical Atlantic

Get the Party Rolling!

The National Weather Service or some agency in the weather prediction end of the federal government designates hurricane season as running from June 1 to November 30 for the tropical Atlantic. It’s called “hurricane season,” though hurricanes are only the most powerful storms. There are also many smaller storm systems from tropical waves to tropical depressions to tropical storms. The better term to use is tropical cyclone.

The peak of the season is usually late August through the end of September. However, this season is looking a bit ominous: There are two systems they are watching for tropical formation and it is only mid-June. The tropical cyclone prediction map from NOAA above show the probability of two systems forming in the Caribbean next week. The leftmost red area has a 90% chance of forming and the storm on the lower right has a 60% chance. Neither are predicted to “hit” Puerto Rico at this time but the storm off Mexico is already causing the winds here to increase a bit.

Interestingly, if these systems get big enough to become named storms, they won’t even be the first of the year, tropical storm Arlene formed in mid-April, only the second time this has ever been observed. But wait! Even more ominously, a big stationary tropical low formed in mid-March when we were in the Turks and Caicos, I posted a pic of the storms at the time (below):

Big Storms in the TCIs Last March

This storm almost got big enough to be named and that would have been a first ever. It generated huge waves in the TCIs, and that’s the thing about these tropical systems. Even if they don’t form named storms, they are usually associated with lots of rain and wind.

So our first tropical cyclone season in the Caribbean may be a busy one. But hey, you can’t say you’re a salt encrusted sailor until you’ve spent at least one hurricane season in the “belt.” We’ve ordered new, doubled dock lines…


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Tax Avoision

Going For My Morning Soak in the Seaside Pool at the Yacht Club Marina

Palmas del Mar is a gated community here on the east shore of Puerto Rico. Actually, it’s double gated. You have to go through a staffed main gate to get into the development. The development consists of many separate houses, villages, condos, and hotels, plus the marina, with a golf course meandering around them. Each community or hotel has it’s own staffed gate, including the marina. The landscaping is well maintained, there are no stray dogs and no trashed out buildings or streets. And there are sidewalks and walkways, the true expression of a luxury community in the Caribbean, apparently.

So this is a high end community for the island. The Yacht Club here has a tiki bar that serves what the locals call the best burger on the island. And it is pretty damn good. But the locals complain that if you don’t have a boat parked here you can’t get in, they hardly ever open it up to the public. Now here is the kicker, the seasonal rate (which we are in) is amazingly reasonable. So we get quite a bit of luxury living without having to pay the steep prices.

Many of the “locals” we’ve met here are expats from the states. Well, “expat” isn’t a proper description since we are in U.S. territory, but nevertheless, it is a bit different here. All PR citizens are U.S. citizens though they cannot vote in national elections and do not have voting representatives in congress. So their law is a mix of U.S. federal law and some Puerto Rican law.

Apparently there is a huge tax advantage for businesses here: There is no capital gains tax. Zero. For personal income tax it is pretty low, like 5% or something. Many of the people we’ve met here moved their business here to avoid paying these taxes, which is a huge advantage. Thus the title of this post, tax avoision. It is a real word. I learned it from watching The Simpsons.

Walking Path Through the Beachside Trees


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Realities of Sailboats

Docked at One of the Larger Slips at The Yacht Club Marina

I haven’t posted a sailing blog in a while because we have been waiting here in Palmas to get some boat maintenance done. The maintenance is finally complete and it took a while. I’ll describe below what we had to do and the events leading up to our extended stay here. BTW, we are not suffering!

So what happened: A few weeks ago we had gotten some routine maintenance done on the engine and generator, an oil change basically. We had been waiting to get the service done (nothing happens quickly here, island time you know) so that we could head out for a couple of weeks around Vieques and Culebra islands. We exited the marina and were about 3 miles out when the engine started sounding funny, like it was going to quit. We needed the engine to go east into the wind and waves. After the third engine hiccup, Shelly declared we were turning back. We got pointed back toward the marina and the engine quit. No matter what we did it would not start. I noticed the Racor filter bulb was not full indicating that there was no fuel coming in from the tank.

I could not think of a way to get the fuel flowing again so we put the sails up. We had an excellent east wind that let us sail straight back to the marina entrance. But we still had a problem, we had no way to maneuver in the tight spaces of the marina, or stop, once we got there. And the entrance was tricky, it was somewhat narrow with rocks on both sides, and some decent waves to push you around as you came in.

Shelly called for a tow. This is quite simple back in the states and all up and down the east coast there are boat towing companies. Here, not so much. They do exist, but it turns out they were all working at the site of a plane crash that had happened not too far away the day before. What are the chances?

Shelly called the marina. They said they could help us get in but we’d have to get through the breakwater entrance first. As we approached, we dropped our main and reefed the jib way, way back so that we would slow down but maintain steering. We passed the rocks outside the entrance, they were alarmingly close. The boat, however, handled excellently and we sailed right up to the long outside dock of the marina, and we were going slowly enough that they could stop us with our dock lines. They did come out to help in their small boat but I think events happened so quickly that they really couldn’t tie on and do much.

When telling the story to others, they comment that the difficult part was sailing through the breakwater. We tacked once. Otherwise sailing in was not so stressful as losing the engine. Over the next few days they towed us to a couple other locations using what is actually a large dinghy. The guys here are quite the experts.

What happened to the engine? Diesel tends to get gunk in it from bacteria and fungus that can live in the fuel as long as there is some water. There is always a bit of water in the tanks due to condensation. Over time, usually years, a kind of black, gummy gunk accumulates. Our tanks had a lot, we don’t know when they were cleaned last.

Usually it takes years to get that bad. As we look back, we are lucky our fuel line “chose” to clog when it did. It would have been pretty terrible in the Mona Passage or just about anywhere else after we left Florida up until we got here.

So. Good Karma!

 


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Brain Hacking

My Homemade tDCS Machine

I’ve had an extended break from blog since we visited the rainforest. We are getting some maintenance done and are “stuck” here in Palmas waiting for some parts and some expertise.

I just read an interesting science article (click here) about how a transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) device can be used to enhance creativity by “…temporarily suppressing a key part of the frontal brain called the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.”

The study showed an increase in creativity when electrical stimulation was applied across the cranium in a particular way. Lots of amateur “brain hackers” have already found this out in an anecdotal sense, and claim even more cognitive enhancements depending on how the brain is stimulated. I know something happens, it did with me in my experiments.

One of my big product ideas was to combine a tDCS and EEG to actually measure the effect of the stimulation and then build algorithms to modulate the stimulation to maximum effect. I wrote about my experiments from a couple years back. Still a great idea and I’d be surprised if someone isn’t trying something similar.


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El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque Peak, home of the Great Tainto Spirit Yucahu

I have immersed myself in rainforests from Nepal to Cascadia, Peru to Hawaii, Patagonia to New Zealand. I love the diversity of life from the mosses to the towering trees forming the canopy. The yellow, red, purple and white flowers that spring forth in the humid shade.

So I guess it was appropriate to visit one of the great rainforests of Puerto Rico on my birthday. It was quite spectacular, though we didn’t get to hike the trails on this trip (we’ll do that later). On the drive there it was, well, raining. Torrentially. But not so much while we were in the forest, we got some good views of the mountains.

We learned a few things. Before the Spanish arrived and took over, the island was occupied by natives known as the Tainto. They called the island Borinquen. This is a name for the island that is favored over Puerto Rico by many locals today, similar to the way the original native name Denali was favored over Mt. McKinley by modern Alaskans.

The Tainto believed the great spirit Yucahu would over and protected Borinquen. The legend has it that Yucahu resided at the top of the highest mountain in this rainforest, now known as El Yunque Peak.

When you visit the rainforest and experience the power of life and the elements around you, it is easy to understand why the ancient natives believed such a deity resided in the highest, most inaccessible location, surrounded by the vast forces of nature.

And… Another year older!

At Coco Falls in El Yunque National Forest


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Salinas to Palmas del Mar, PR

Good Karma at Palmas del Mar

We finally turned the southeast corner of PR to arrive in Palmas del Mar today. I have to characterize the last two days as quite difficult, and as a matter of fact, traversing the southern coast of PR has been some of the most difficult days so far from our starting point in Rock Hall, MD.

Though getting down to the Caribbean has not been easy, traversing the last 80 miles or so directly east has been slow and rough, fighting both the wind and the waves. Yesterday we travelled for 6 hours to gain less than twenty miles. We anchored at Porto Patillas and because our electronic chart had a bug, we didn’t have enough detail to go close into shore safely. We noticed several other boats about a quarter mile closer to shore, the obvious anchorage, but because we didn’t have a good plot of where it was too shallow, we opted to stay out a little further.

That proved to be problematic. We had side-to-side rolling all night because the protection was not good. I decided that the boat rocking in this manner is by far worse than any other motion. You can’t even lay in the bunk without rolling side-to-side. Neither of us slept much. We were more than happy to get up at 5 a.m. and move on. I started having motion sickness as soon as I got out of bed, something that has never happened. Drugs took care of that. Drugs, baby, drugs.

We turned the southeast corner of the island and started moving north to stop at Palmas del Mar, a very nice marina. We were so tired after we got here with Shelly’s professional docking skill, that we crashed for the afternoon and haven’t explored anything yet.

Forgot to mention that in Salinas, we saw quite a few manatee. Apparently there is a freshwater spring that flows into the bay and that is what attracts them. We’ve seen many more manatee since leaving Florida than we did while there. Also, this side of the island is spectacularly beautiful. Lots of tropical forest covered mountains and no big cities.

 


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