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Pilch

Ad-block-alypse

2 min read

Dear Cheryl1 (my NSA angel),

Hi there. I have been reading (but you knew that) about the latest cycle of ad blocking, and how it will be the end of advertising/journalism/the internet as we know it2. It is fun to remember how pop-up blocking was also the end of internet advertising as we knew it!

Anyways, my favorite piece to come out of all this is a talk transcript by the head of Pinboard.3 I encourage you to read it yourself, but here are some choice pull-quotes.

On ad morals:

The ad networks’ name for this robotic deception is ‘ad fraud’ or ‘click fraud’. (Advertisers like to use moralizing language when their money starts to flow in the wrong direction. Tricking people into watching ads is good; being tricked into showing ads to automated traffic is evil.)

On regulation:

When I flew over to give this talk, I wasn’t worried about my plane falling out of the sky. Eighty years of effective technical regulation (and massive penalties for fraud) have made commercial aviation the safest form of transportation in the world.

On smart refrigerators:

Samsung recently got in hot water with their smart refrigerator. Because it failed to validate SSL certificates, the fridge would leak your Gmail credentials (used by its little calendar) to anyone who asked it. All I wanted was some ice, and instead my email got hacked.

On living in San Francisco:

You wouldn’t hire a gardener whose houseplants were all dead. But we expect that people will trust us to reinvent their world with software even though we can’t make our own city livable.

Seriously, it is ten minutes of reading well spent.

Have a great day,
Craig


  1. The NSA is an equal oportunity employer.
  2. Here is the same guy from that editorial (he is EIC, btw), two months earlier, lamenting the terrible mobile web user experience, which is almost entirely caused by ads and trackers.
  3. My least favorite piece was Marco Arment’s, who, after proclaiming ad blockers the future and creating the most popular one on iOS, probably found out it was blocking ads on his own site.

Pilch

Spygate and Ballghazi

1 min read

Dear Ernesto (my NSA angel),

We haven’t chatted (directly) in a while. How are things? Last I heard, you had the director of the FBI complaining about encryption making his job harder. Have you guys found the abominable Snowden1 yet?

Anyways, I am writing you today about the NSA’s Foxboro branch. I did enjoy the shitting the bed in court last week over Ballghazi2, but this lends the internal power struggle some context. But what do I know, I am probably just a “butthurt Colts fan.”

Also, it is hilarious that even after all this comes to light, they are still jamming signals in opposing teams’ headsets. Did you guys give them the tip to use their own game broadcast? I bet your style is more classic-rock-Van-Halen-Not-Van-Haggar signal interference.

Take it sleazy,

Craig

 


  1. HBO found him. Maybe you should talk to them.  ↩

  2. This is not Deflategate. That is a terrible name. It is Ballghazi.  ↩

Pilch

You Don't Own Your Data

1 min read

Many of us have a protective instinct when it comes to our data. After all, it's ours....

You Don't Own Your Data
from Pocket via IFTTT

Pilch

Ventricular Septal Secure Socket Layer Defect

1 min read

Dear Stanley (my NSA angel),

Sorry I haven't had time to write you in a while. I've been busy trying to change all my passwords (well, at least the important ones) because of the Heartbleed bug.1 I hear you guys knew about it for a while now. Where's the heads up, buddy? I thought we were friends.

It sucks that it only takes one guy missing a couple lines of code to totally undermine security on about half of the internet. I bet you guys wish you were that efficient. So did you have to change your passwords too? Probably not. Whatever proprietary security software you guys use would probably still be secure even if everyone's password is "guest".

Anyways, feel free to keep photoshopping your vans out of my photos. Please take it easy on the filters though.

Til next time,

Craig2

image credit: Global Panorama


  1. XKCD has the best explainer of the bug that I have seen: Heartbleed bug 
  2. This mostly has nothing to do with Heartbleed, but I always think of it when I see "IP addresses". Me and him are gettin' on the internet.   

Pilch

Thanks, Obama. Love, NSA

1 min read

Dear Steven (my NSA angel),

I understand that phone calls are kind of your thing. How does it feel, then, that someone in charge (however half-heartedly) is finally saying, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't collect all this phone data"?

I'd be a little mad, I guess.1 I just hope that we can all be adults about it and debate the merits2 and shortcomings3 of mass surveillance. Unlike some people, who wear three-corner hats and freak out when they get tread on by Barack Hussein Obamacare and don't understand the phrase "what goes around comes around."

And hey, bonus -

Phone companies, for their part, would have to provide "technical assistance" in order to make sure that the government could easily search for and collect information...

You have a built-in scapegoat for when things go tits up4!

Sorry for your (non-)loss,
Craig


  1. I'm sure your behavior algorithms already knew that. You have those, right? Google does, so I'm sure you do by proxy. 
  2. None. 
  3. All. 
  4. I would like to see this British-ish phrase come up more in daily conversation. 

Pilch

Pilch

Planning stings and getting stung

1 min read

Dear Mike (my NSA angel),

I hear you guys got duped pretty bad by a major US telecom company. I am having trouble picking a favorite part of this situation. Too many to choose from:

  • Telecoms apparently overcharge everyone, even the federal government.
  • The idea of suing those telecoms to get your money back is laughable when you substitute "average consumer" for "federal government."
  • Sprint's network was not capable of adequate surveillance, from a technical standpoint. If you are planning something that will get you surveilled and you are smart enough to use a network that is too shitty to tap, you deserve to operate in secret.

Is anyone in the right here? It's like Inception. I know you can neither confirm or deny any of this1, but come on. We know it was you, Mike.

I'm watching you,
Craig


  1. Like Steven Seagal.    

Pilch

Cable questions

2 min read

Dear Jim (my NSA angel),

My cable company is attempting to buy their closest competitor. I know you and Comcast are bros on the DL, but your love is quite transparent to the public. Anyways, was this your idea? Vertical integration of data harvesting, now covering 37 of the top 40 markets in America. Solid strategy. I try to avoid conspiracy theories, but a surveillance state combined with this sounds like some Illuminati1 shit.

Speaking of TV, how have you liked the new season of House of Cards so far2? Some solid digital espionage going on in the first few episodes, but through the FBI/Secret Service? Come on, we both know who the real 1337 h4XX0rs are.

So, listen, if any packages come to the house, could you put them inside the screen door for me? I don't get home until the evening, and I would prefer they weren't covered in snow. Also, weather machine? Is that a thing yet? Please get someone on that ASAP.

Thanks,
Craig


  1. Who is head of the Illuminati these days? Is it Beyonce? It is, isn't it? Your secret is safe with me. Ooh, is it Tupac? 

  2. You haven't answered yet, so I assume you can see my TV ok. 

Pilch

Dear NSA Angel

2 min read

One of my best friends is doing some awesome things in the Navy. Like, awesome enough that he can't really say what they are. My wife and I were talking about him a couple weeks ago and came to the realization that we have contacted him enough that we are well within the two or three degrees of separation required1 for NSA 2.

Since then, we have included occasional messages to our "NSA angel" in our everyday communication, to see if they come true or just to give some Quantico keyboard jockey a laugh. Thus far, our NSA angel has failed to predict the Super Bowl outcome3 or chime in with the proper number of ibuprofen pills to treat inflammation.4

Anyways, I haven't had a lot of time to write lately - just been a little busy5. And the only people that knew about my NSA angel were my wife and I, our Navy friend6, and our NSA angel (obviously). So I am making my NSA Angel letters their own category in hopes to kickstart some writing. Please feel free to write some to your own NSA angel as well. I'm sure they get bored reading about every detail of your life (some of which you probably don't even know yourself).


  1. It's a thing - ask the Guardian
  2. Sure, they say that they are only surveilling possible enemies of state. At this point, do you believe them
  3. I told the NSA angel to not respond if the Broncos were going to win. Classic catch-22 (because they7 obviously knew the winner in October). 
  4. It's three, right? That was our guess. 
  5. My NSA angel knows how that goes. Amirite Frank? (Frank is his name) 
  6. No, not you. The other one. Frank knows. 
  7. By "they" I mean "math". 

Pilch

Olympic Questions

1 min read

Dear Robert1 (my NSA angel),

How are the Olympics going? I am one of these new fangled "cable cutters"2 that NBC apparently hates, so I have to get all my Olympic news second hand. Has anyone skiied over a dog yet? Did Putin win any medals yet - biathlon, figure skating, dressage, etc.? Is Bob Costas going to leave Sochi with some kind of super power, a la Cyclops?

I have to say that the Colbert Report has had my favorite3 coverage of the games so far, with the From Russia with Love - But No Gay Stuff segments. Also, how is the brightness and contrast on my TV? Can you see it OK?

Well, it's getting late4. I am going to go drink a beer and - well, no need to tell you5.

Love,
Craig


  1. I know it was Frank last time. It changes. You think just one guy works at the NSA? 
  2. You knew that. 
  3. You knew that too. 
  4. Did you know that? 
  5. Because you know. 

Pilch

Caught on tape

1 min read

I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, explaining why he asserted in March that the NSA was not gathering data on millions of Americans in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.  (via officialssay)