Tag Archives: drown

Lorelei Joins The Operations Crew

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/lorelei-joins-operations-crew/

We’ve eclipsed the 400 Petabyte mark and our data center continues to grow. What does that mean? It means we need more great people working in our data centers making sure that the hard drives keep spinning and that sputtering drives are promptly dealt with. Lorelei is the newest Data Center Technician to join our ranks. Let’s learn a bit more about Lorelei, shall we?

What is your Backblaze Title?
DC Tech!! I’m the saucy one.

Where are you originally from?
San Francisco/Bowling Green, Ohio. Just moved up to Sacramento this year, and it’s so nice to have four seasons again. I’m drowning in leaves but I’m totally OK with it.

What attracted you to Backblaze?
I was a librarian in my previous life, mainly because I believe that information should be open to everyone. I was familiar with Backblaze prior to joining the team, and I’m a huge fan of their fresh approach to sharing information and openness. The interview process was also the coolest one I’ll ever have!

What do you expect to learn while being at Backblaze?
A lot about Linux!

Where else have you worked?
A chocolate factory and a popular culture library.

Where did you go to school?
CSU East Bay, Bowling Green State University (go Falcons), and Clarion.

Favorite place you’ve traveled?
Stockholm & Tokyo! I hope to travel more in Asia and Europe.

Favorite hobby?
Music is not magic, but music is…
Come sing with me @ karaoke!

Favorite food?
I love trying new food. I love anything that’s acidic, sweet, fresh, salty, flavorful. Fruit is the best food, but everything else is good too. I’m one of those Yelp people: always seeking & giving food recs!

Why do you like certain things?
I like things that make me happy and that make other people happy. Have fun & enjoy life. Yeeeeehaw.

Welcome to the team Lorelei. And thank you very much for leaving Yelp reviews. It’s nice to give back to the community!

The post Lorelei Joins The Operations Crew appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

A2SV – Auto Scanning SSL Vulnerability Tool For Poodle & Heartbleed

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2017/10/a2sv-auto-scanning-ssl-vulnerability-tool-poodle-heartbleed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

A2SV – Auto Scanning SSL Vulnerability Tool For Poodle & Heartbleed

A2SV is a Python-based SSL Vulnerability focused tool that allows for auto-scanning and detection of the common and well-known SSL Vulnerabilities.

SSL Vulnerabilities Detected by A2SV

  • [CVE-2007-1858] Anonymous Cipher
  • [CVE-2012-4929] CRIME(SPDY)
  • [CVE-2014-0160] CCS Injection
  • [CVE-2014-0224] HeartBleed
  • [CVE-2014-3566] SSLv3 POODLE
  • [CVE-2015-0204] FREAK Attack
  • [CVE-2015-4000] LOGJAM Attack
  • [CVE-2016-0800] SSLv2 DROWN

Planned for future:

  • [PLAN] SSL ACCF
  • [PLAN] SSL Information Analysis

Installation & Requirements for A2SV

A.

Read the rest of A2SV – Auto Scanning SSL Vulnerability Tool For Poodle & Heartbleed now! Only available at Darknet.

[$] Spam filtering with Rspamd

Post Syndicated from corbet original https://lwn.net/Articles/732570/rss

Running one’s own mail system on the Internet has become an increasingly
difficult thing to do, to the point that many people don’t bother, even if
they have the necessary skills. Among the challenges is spam; without
effective spam filtering, an email account will quickly drown under a
deluge of vile offers, phishing attempts, malware, and alternative facts. Many of
us turn to SpamAssassin for
this task, but it’s not the only alternative; Rspamd is increasingly worth considering in
this role. Your editor gave Rspamd a spin to get a sense for whether
switching would be a good thing to do.

Sisyphus: the kinetic art table

Post Syndicated from Courtney Lentz original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/sisyphus-kinetic-art-table/

Surely if he had been given the opportunity, Sisyphus would have engineered a way out of his eternal punishment of rolling a boulder up a hill. It’s just too bad for him that Raspberry Pi wasn’t around to help. While it’s a far cry from his arduous task, the Pi has been used to power Bruce Shapiro’s Sisyphus, a continuous and ever-changing kinetic art piece that creates unique design patterns in sand using a small metal ball.

the-sisyphus-table-1-730x548

Sisyphus is truly mesmerising. We learned this first-hand: at Maker Faire New York earlier this month, it captured the attention of not only the Raspberry Pi crew, but also thousands of attendees throughout the weekend. Sisyphus momentarily drowned out the noise and action of the Faire.

You can think of Sisyphus as a cross between an Etch A Sketch and Spirograph, except this is no toy.

Under the table is a two-motor robot (the “Sisbot”) that moves a magnet which draws a steel ball through the sand. The motors are controlled by a small Raspberry Pi computer which plays a set of path files, much like a music player plays an MP3 file.

Sisyphus

Bruce is using Kickstarter in the hope of transitioning Sisyphus from what’s currently a large art installation exhibited around the world into a beautiful piece to be enjoyed in the home, as both furniture and art.

annmarie thomas on Twitter

Sisyphus- Stunning art/furniture kickstarter (fully funded in <a day) by friend Bruce Shapiro. https://t.co/ijxHQ0fYb5

Bruce says:

Of all works I made, Sisyphus stood out – it was my first CNC machine to break out of the studio/shop. No longer tasked with cutting materials to be used in making sculptures, it was the sculpture itself. It was also unique in another way – I wanted to live with it in my home. I’ve spent the last three years perfecting a home version that’s beautiful, user-friendly, near-silent, and that will run for years.

Like most great Maker Faire projects, it’s centred around a wonderful community. The collaboration and access to tools in Shapiro’s local makerspace helped develop the final design seen today. While Shapiro’s original makerspace has since closed its doors, Shapiro and his fellow members opened up what is now Nordeast Makers. It’s where the production for Sisyphus will take place.

Sisyphus

The Kickstarter products come in three styles: an end table, and two different coffee tables. You might want to find another place to display your coffee table books, though, so as to keep Sisyphus’s designs visible…

kickstarter-products

This Kickstarter won’t be running forever, so be sure to pledge if you love the sound of the Sisyphus.

The post Sisyphus: the kinetic art table appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

Learning to draw, learning to learn

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2016/05/06/learning-to-draw-learning-to-learn/

On January 1, 2015, I started learning to draw.

I’d made a couple brief attempts before, but nothing very serious. I’d eyeballed some official Pokémon artwork on two occasions, and that was pretty much it. I’d been dating an artist for seven years and had been surrounded by artist friends for nearly half my life, but I’d never taken a real crack at it myself.

On some level, I didn’t believe I could. It seemed so far outside the range of things I was already any good at. I’m into programming and math and computers and puzzles; aesthetics are way on the opposite end of a spectrum that only exists inside my head. Is it possible to bridge that huge, imaginary gap? Is it even allowed? (Spoilers: totally.)

In the ensuing sixteen months, a lot of people have — repeatedly — expressed surprise at how fast I’ve improved. I’ve then — repeatedly — expressed surprise at this surprise, because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything particularly special. I don’t have any yardstick for measuring artistic improvement speed; the artists I’ve known have always been drawing for years by the time I first met them. Plenty of people start drawing in childhood; not so many start at 27.

On the other hand, I do have 15 years’ experience of being alright at a thing. I suspect, in that time, I’ve picked up a different kind of skill that’s undervalued, invaluable, and conspicuously lacking from any curriculum: how to learn!

I don’t claim to be great at art, or even necessarily great at learning, but here are some things I’ve noticed myself doing. I hope that writing this down will, at the very least, help me turn it into a more deliberate and efficient process — rather than the bumbling accident it’s been so far.

Crude pencil comic from Jan 1, 2015

I started out doing daily comics, just because Mel was also doing them. The first one was… not terribly great. It hadn’t even occurred to me to bump the contrast on this photo.

At this point I was vaguely aware of some extreme basics:

  • things are made of shapes
  • faces are two dots with a mouth under them
  • arms have some kinda little stubs at the end
  • you can do a squiggle to kind of make fur

I’ve had people tell me I was already drawing better than them here. I can see how I might’ve had a tiny bit of a head start: I do live with two artists, and clumsy attempts at web design have given me a slight appreciation for whitespace and composition. Still, I don’t think this is wildly beyond anyone’s ability.

The most important thing was probably the idea of daily comics, which got me to draw at least one thing a day — several, in fact, since they’re comics. I kept this up through the end of March, at which point I just plain ran out of ideas for comics. There are only so many ways to draw “I worked on computer stuff and also my cat does funny things”. But that’s still 90 days, times an average of at least two panels per comic, which is hundreds of drawings. My first insight is thus:

Do the thing. Do it a lot. No, don’t “practice”. “Practice” sounds rote and repetitive; even reading the word makes me feel pre-emptively bored. Just do it. Find an excuse to do it. Any excuse. You want to write embarrassing fanfiction? Do it. You want to make four-chords pop songs? Do it. You don’t need to do something high-brow or rigorous or chosen from a careful gradient of boring beginner exercises. You just need to something.

Even better, do something regularly and release it publicly (or at least to a moderate circle of people). It helps to have some light pressure, and posting something every day starts to feel like it’s expected of you, even if you’ve never explicitly promised anything.

If it starts to feel like too much of a drag, you can always drop it and try something else. You can take a break for a while, you can do some personal work, you can do whatever self-hack will help you keep doing something.

Digital painting of a landscape from an interesting angle from March 26, 2015

Mel’s birthday is March 26. On March 19, 2015, our roommate gave me his old drawing tablet. I spent most of the ensuing week on the above digital painting.

I’d only colored anything a couple things at this point, all of them basically flood-filled. I hadn’t tried shading, backgrounds, textures, colored lines, perspective.

Naturally, I tried all of them at once. Some of these experiments were, er, more successful than others. (Along similar lines, this year, I animated something for the first time.)

Regardless of the outcome, I’d now done my best at all of these things at least once, and learned a lot about each of them.

I’m reminded of every introductory beginner guide to anything ever, which introduces one concept at a time and carefully shields you from anything you haven’t seen yet. Or stories of programming teachers who will actually chide a student for using something they haven’t been taught yet.

Fuck that noise. Dive in; keep trying things you’ve never tried before. It’s how babies learn a language, which I think is pretty impressive, given that they didn’t already know one. Parents don’t restrict their speech to single-word sentences until the baby has caught on, and then start introducing nouns. They talk normally. The baby marinates in the language and picks it up over time by playing with it, starting with whatever’s most accessible.

And hey, this works for adults too. I’m pretty sure being dropped in a country where no one speaks your native tongue will have you picking up a second language much more quickly than taking night classes and having artificial conversations about dinner dates. The only real advantage a baby has is a complete lack of obligations, so they’re free to sit and listen to people talk all day.

Series of eight roughly increasingly better avatars

I figured another way to do the thing and dive in would be to finally draw my own avatar.

This took a few attempts.

The first two were in March, and I used the first one for a while. 3 through 5 were all done in June in an attempt to replace the first one with something better, but all went unused. Number 6 was the first real success, lasting through the end of the year with a few seasonal variations. 7 was an attempt to update it earlier this year, and the last one is only a few weeks old and is my current avatar.

Some of these are really bad, but I can look at them and tell exactly what I was trying to do.

  1. I didn’t even draw this; I made it with vectors, using the mouse, because I couldn’t draw well enough to make it otherwise.

  2. Drawn by hand with a tablet.

  3. The angle worked out really poorly last time, so I tried working around that by aiming from straight ahead. The ears are no longer solid blobs. There are eyebrows! The nose is shaped more like a nose. The previous colors kinda clashed, so this is more reddish overall.

  4. Straight-on didn’t work out and is hardly identifiable as anything, so back to angled. Still trying to work out pupils. Right ear is drawn behind the bow, so it doesn’t look like the bow is holding it on. I don’t understand mouths, so I’ll cheat and do a smirk instead.

  5. More angled, moved upwards to center the face. Shaded and colored the lines this time. Still trying to work out pupils. Around this time I was trying to figure out how ears on the far side of the head work, and something catastrophic happened here. I was waffling on whether the insides of the ears should have one line or two, so I tried compromising with one line plus a shadow. Bow has a bit of ribbon sticking out, as a hint that it’s tied on and not just glued there.

  6. Made the lines much thicker, so they wouldn’t vanish when shrunk down. Kept the shapes simple for the same reason. Pupils reduced to dots, which actually works just fine. Fluff details are bigger, which helps cohesion. Background color matches the bow color, which helps tremendously. Mouth finally works by being aligned with the bottom of the nose. Shape of the muzzle protrusion is, finally, big enough.

  7. More detailed bow shape. Bow is now clearly tied to the ear. Insides of ears are rendered again. Entire mouth line is shown. Some shading is present again. Pupils have expanded, but not too much, and have a glint again. Lines are colored again.

  8. Small fluff details made bigger again. Background is greener to avoid the clash from last time. Mouth is open and has the little corner crease. Lines rethickened. Dropped the shaded lines, since they didn’t work out last time, but kept the lines as mostly a single non-black color. Thickened the white double outline, which looked goofy in #6 when it was thinner than the regular outline.

In every case I was trying to improve on something that hadn’t gone well before. In every case I was trying to make the best avatar I had ever made. Sometimes that meant trying something I hadn’t tried before; sometimes that meant dropping something that hadn’t worked before; sometimes that meant resurrecting something and fiddling with it until it worked.

Always try to do the best work you’ve ever done. The key is that “best” is entirely subjective, and you can define it however you want! I was terrible at drawing digitigrade legs (like cats’ back legs) for the longest time, so for a while my definition of “best” was “has the best legs I’ve ever drawn”. Pick whatever axes you like. Vary them regularly, too — both to avoid burnout and to avoid concentrating on one thing over all else.

I had a high school teacher who liked to say that “practice makes perfect” is wrong; rather, “perfect practice makes perfect”. I don’t think that phrasing is any more illuminating, but I get his point: repeating exactly the same thing over and over will only make you better at that one thing. Incremental improvement is how you progress. (Hmm, I guess that’s not as catchy.)

There’s a catch to doing this effectively, which might as well be its own bolded quip.

Learn how to tell what’s wrong. This is a tricky muscle to exercise deliberately, but the better you get at it, the more (and more quickly) you can learn from your mistakes. Eventually you learn not to make them in the first place.

Are you a programmer? Spot the problems in this snippet of some C-like language:

1
2
3
4
5
if (won = true)
    print("You did it!");
else
    print("You failed!");
    print("Press any key to try again.");

They probably stick out to you like a sore thumb. You’ve seen and made these basic mistakes so many times that your eye has learned to recoil from the very shape of them. You’re far less likely to make them now, because the moment you make the mistake, your brain vomits a little.

Unfortunately, this is something that only comes with experience, so you’ll just have to slog through making the baby mistakes. Asking for expert advice helps a little, but I think it mostly helps you find the mistake in the first place, so you can notice it again yourself next time. Spotting your own fuckups engraves them into your brain much more effectively than having them pointed out to you.

The one hack I can think of is to drown yourself in good work. The best you can find. If you get a sense for what good work is like, you might at least get the sense that something is off about your own, which is a first step to figuring out what the problem is.

You know how some people are “naturally” talented at a thing? It just “clicks” for them? I strongly suspect their actual natural talent is more about understanding their own mistakes in a particular kind of work, which lets them skip over a lot of the boring beginner part where you fumble around uselessly.

Several pixel art landscapes

Know what’s possible. Every skill has its own toolbox, and part of learning the skill is learning what’s in the toolbox. Being familiar with image editing software has been hugely helpful for experimenting with art; for example, changing the color of your lines is trivial if you know how to use alpha lock. If you don’t know, will you even suspect it exists?

I recall a Doom Let’s Play with a conversation that went like this:

A: Ah, these textures are misaligned. It’s so easy to fix, too; you can just press A in Doom Builder to align everything across several walls.

B: Wait, really? I always do it manually.

A: What? Are you serious? So when you have a big curve made out of a lot of pieces—

B: That’s why I don’t make big curves out of a lot of pieces!

If you think something is impossible (or at least impractical), you cut yourself off from whole areas of experimentation.

Listen to more experienced people when they talk about how they work. Poke around your tools and see what all the buttons do. Come up with your own tricks — it sure worked for Bob Ross.

What does this have to do with pixel art? Not much. Pixel art relates to a rough converse of this, which is that sometimes, it’s nice to limit what’s possible. I’d never really given pixel art a try until I made these last month, and it turned out to be a really fun medium. With the drastically lower resolution and a pre-chosen fixed palette (made by someone else), I was forced to forget about how smooth my curves are or how to pick colors that work well together. Instead, I was free to play with the effects different colors have on each other, experiment with light and shading in a very simple way, and add in small details that I’d usually not think about.

Similarly, I’m now trying out the PICO-8 “fantasy console”, a tiny virtual video game system with some fairly severe restrictions. As a result, after a couple days of effort, I’m much closer to having a (graphical!) video game written than I ever have been before. I’m capable of making my own sprites now, and there can’t be too many of them anyway. Even the music editor is simple enough that I can make a passable tune. If I’d tried to make a little platformer in some massively-powerful general-purpose game engine, I’d have drowned in all the resources and code I’d need to find or create. Which has happened before. Probably more than once.

A blank canvas can be overwhelming sometimes; infinite possibilities are a lot to sift through. Cutting down on those options is freeing in its own way.

Pi Day comic, in 2015 and 2016

Step back and acknowledge your progress.

Learning a thing is frustrating sometimes. A lot of the time, even. Progress is slow and incremental, and on any given day, you won’t feel any better than you were the previous day.

Keep your old stuff around. Look at it from time to time so you can actually see how far you’ve come.

I drew these one year apart. I’m still not great — I immediately see half a dozen things in the more recent version that make me wince. But I’m better.

Illustration of a few critters at the circus

I think this is the most recent thing I’ve finished. It’s certainly a far cry from some pencil scribbles.

I hope I can get much better at this. Expressing ideas visually feels like a superpower — I can take vague images in my head and inject them directly into other people’s eyeballs. It keeps turning out to be useful, too: I’ve drawn myself avatars and banners, I drew the header for this site, I can draw sprites and illustrations for my own little games. It even taught me a few things that turned out to be useful for level design.

So, learn a lot of things. Try radically new things from time to time. Write a poem, bake a cake, make a video game. You’ll have experienced making something new, and you never know when that experience might come in handy. Doing rudimentary web design turned out to give me a head start at understanding color; who would’ve guessed?

I’m only writing this post now because I just realized that I hit a breakthrough point. I don’t really know how to explain it precisely in terms of art, so let me try language instead.

A very frustrating stage of learning a new (spoken) language is the late-beginner stage. You know the basic grammar and understand how the language is generally put together; you just don’t know many words. Learning resources are starting to dry up — everything’s always written for complete beginners — but you struggle to transition to learning from real native media, because you have to stop to look up every other word.

If you stick with it, you’ll eventually claw your way up to a kind of critical mass, where you know enough vocabulary that you can start to pick up the rest from context. You no longer need to spend ten minutes fishing through a dictionary just to understand what someone is talking about, and can instead focus on picking up nuance and idioms and more complex grammar. From there, you can accelerate.

I sense I’ve hit a similar kind of critical mass with drawing. I spent a long time fighting just to get my hand to draw the shapes I wanted, which got in the way of learning what shapes I should want in the first place. I realized only days ago that I don’t have this problem nearly so much any more.

That means I can now experiment with different kinds of shapes! It means I can play with line thickness and rely less on undo, because I don’t have to worry that I won’t be able to redraw a line. It means I can try painting more instead of always having a separate lineart layer. I can try more stuff without struggling with the basics.

It took a while to get here, but it’s paying off, and it’s been pretty cool to watch happen.

tl;dr of LambdaConf drama

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2016/04/tldr-of-lambdaconf-drama.html

Short: SJWs dont like person’s politics, try to shutdown small programming con due to person being speaker. (from @jcase).Longer: LambdaConf (a tiny conference for LISP-like programming languages) accepted a speaker with objectionable political views, who under a pseudonym spouted Nazi-like propaganda. “Social justice” activists complained. The conference refused to un-invite the speaker, since his talk content was purely technical, not political. Also, because free-speech. Activists then leaned on sponsors, many of whom withdrew their support of the conference. Free-speech activists took up a collection, and replaced the lost money, so that the conference could continue.Much longer:LambaConf is just a tiny conference put on by a small number of people. It exists because, in the last few years, there has been a resurgent interest in “functional languages”.The speaker in question is Curtis Yarvin. He has weird views, like wanting to establish a monarchy. Last year, he was censored from a similar conference “Strangeloop” for a similar reason: a technical, non-political talk censored because people couldn’t tolerate his politics. The current talk seems to be similar to last one, about his “Urbit” project.LambdaConf, in the spirit of diversity, stripped the authors names when they evaluated papers, so that biases about gender and ethnicity don’t enter into the evaluation process. They didn’t know who they had accepted until after they accepted him.We all use the word “social justice warriors” or “SJWs” to refer to bigots who fight for feminism, LGBT rights, and racial diversity. They fight for the same things that the rest of us do — but just with a lot of hate and intolerance for anybody who disagree with them. They’ve become a pox on the technical community recently. Note that Wikipedia says that “SJW” is a pejorative word designed to belittle feminists. That’s not true, as this case shows, as there are ardent feminists on both sides of this issue, but only one side are the SJWs (the ones who don’t tolerate people who disagree with them).The free-speech activists are a bunch of libertarians. In other words, they support feminism, LGBT rights, racial diversity, and everything else the SJWs do — but at the same time, they support free speech and tolerance of those who disagree with them. Several of them are associated with a blog “status451.com“, refering to the new HTTP status code “451”, which of course refers to Fahrenheit 451. Among the people I follow on twitter who support this are @maradydd, @ClarkHat, @AliceMazzy@puellavulnerata.They used Indieogogo to manage the donations. They sought $15,000, but have gotten more than that after only one day.There is a big debate about “free-speech” and “social-justice” going on at the moment. Some claim that the speech of some, those with “privilege”, drowns out the historically oppressed, so current free-speech norms are not in fact equal for everyone. Indeed, the process of stripping the author’s names from papers removes the ability to overcome those historically disadvantaged like women, minorities, and LGBT. On the other hand, in this case, it’s LGBT women who are calling this argument “bullshit”.Many technical conferences have adopted the SJW policy of fascist codes-of-conduct. Hopefully we can revers that trend and get conferences to adopt a policy of accepting speakers based on the contents of their talks rather than their politics.

tl;dr of LambdaConf drama

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2016/04/tldr-of-lambdaconf-drama.html

Short: SJWs dont like person’s politics, try to shutdown small programming con due to person being speaker. (from @jcase).Longer: LambdaConf (a tiny conference for LISP-like programming languages) accepted a speaker with objectionable political views, who under a pseudonym spouted Nazi-like propaganda. “Social justice” activists complained. The conference refused to un-invite the speaker, since his talk content was purely technical, not political. Also, because free-speech. Activists then leaned on sponsors, many of whom withdrew their support of the conference. Free-speech activists took up a collection, and replaced the lost money, so that the conference could continue.Much longer:LambaConf is just a tiny conference put on by a small number of people. It exists because, in the last few years, there has been a resurgent interest in “functional languages”.The speaker in question is Curtis Yarvin. He has weird views, like wanting to establish a monarchy. Last year, he was censored from a similar conference “Strangeloop” for a similar reason: a technical, non-political talk censored because people couldn’t tolerate his politics. The current talk seems to be similar to last one, about his “Urbit” project.LambdaConf, in the spirit of diversity, stripped the authors names when they evaluated papers, so that biases about gender and ethnicity don’t enter into the evaluation process. They didn’t know who they had accepted until after they accepted him.We all use the word “social justice warriors” or “SJWs” to refer to bigots who fight for feminism, LGBT rights, and racial diversity. They fight for the same things that the rest of us do — but just with a lot of hate and intolerance for anybody who disagree with them. They’ve become a pox on the technical community recently. Note that Wikipedia says that “SJW” is a pejorative word designed to belittle feminists. That’s not true, as this case shows, as there are ardent feminists on both sides of this issue, but only one side are the SJWs (the ones who don’t tolerate people who disagree with them).The free-speech activists are a bunch of libertarians. In other words, they support feminism, LGBT rights, racial diversity, and everything else the SJWs do — but at the same time, they support free speech and tolerance of those who disagree with them. Several of them are associated with a blog “status451.com“, refering to the new HTTP status code “451”, which of course refers to Fahrenheit 451. Among the people I follow on twitter who support this are @maradydd, @ClarkHat, @AliceMazzy@puellavulnerata.They used Indieogogo to manage the donations. They sought $15,000, but have gotten more than that after only one day.There is a big debate about “free-speech” and “social-justice” going on at the moment. Some claim that the speech of some, those with “privilege”, drowns out the historically oppressed, so current free-speech norms are not in fact equal for everyone. Indeed, the process of stripping the author’s names from papers removes the ability to overcome those historically disadvantaged like women, minorities, and LGBT. On the other hand, in this case, it’s LGBT women who are calling this argument “bullshit”.Many technical conferences have adopted the SJW policy of fascist codes-of-conduct. Hopefully we can revers that trend and get conferences to adopt a policy of accepting speakers based on the contents of their talks rather than their politics.

An open letter to Sec. Ashton Carter

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2016/03/an-open-letter-to-sec-ashton-carter.html

Hi.For security research, I regularly “mass scan” the entire Internet. For example, my latest scan shows between 250,000 and 300,000 devices still vulnerable to Heartbleed. This is legal. This is necessary security research. Yet, I still happily remove those who complain and want me to stop scanning them.The Department of Defense didn’t merely complain, but made threats, forcing me to stop scanning them. You guys were quite nasty about it, forcing me to figure out for myself which address ranges belong to the DoD.These threats are likely standard procedure at the DoD, investigating every major source of scans and shutting down those you might have power over. But the effect of this is typical government corruption, preventing me from reporting the embarrassing detail of how many DoD systems are still vulnerable to Heartbleed (but without stopping the Chinese or Russians from knowing this detail).Please remove your threats, so that I can scan the DoD in the same way I scan the rest of the Internet. This weekend I’ll be scanning the Internet for system susceptible to the DROWN attack. I would like to include DoD in those scans.I write to you now because you are making overtures to Silicon Valley, and offering bug bounties. Fixing this problem would help in this process.Regards,Robert Graham

An open letter to Sec. Ashton Carter

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2016/03/an-open-letter-to-sec-ashton-carter.html

Hi.For security research, I regularly “mass scan” the entire Internet. For example, my latest scan shows between 250,000 and 300,000 devices still vulnerable to Heartbleed. This is legal. This is necessary security research. Yet, I still happily remove those who complain and want me to stop scanning them.The Department of Defense didn’t merely complain, but made threats, forcing me to stop scanning them. You guys were quite nasty about it, forcing me to figure out for myself which address ranges belong to the DoD.These threats are likely standard procedure at the DoD, investigating every major source of scans and shutting down those you might have power over. But the effect of this is typical government corruption, preventing me from reporting the embarrassing detail of how many DoD systems are still vulnerable to Heartbleed (but without stopping the Chinese or Russians from knowing this detail).Please remove your threats, so that I can scan the DoD in the same way I scan the rest of the Internet. This weekend I’ll be scanning the Internet for system susceptible to the DROWN attack. I would like to include DoD in those scans.I write to you now because you are making overtures to Silicon Valley, and offering bug bounties. Fixing this problem would help in this process.Regards,Robert Graham

On journeys

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/03/on-journeys.html

– 1 –

Poland is an ancient country whose history is deeply intertwined with that of the western civilization. In its glory days, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth sprawled across vast expanses of land in central Europe, from Black Sea to Baltic Sea. But over the past two centuries, it suffered a series of military defeats and political partitions at the hands of its closest neighbors: Russia, Austria, Prussia, and – later – Germany.

After more than a hundred years of foreign rule, Poland re-emerged as an independent state in 1918, only to face the armies of Nazi Germany at the onset of World War II. With Poland’s European allies reneging on their earlier military guarantees, the fierce fighting left the country in ruins. Some six million people have died within its borders – more than ten times the death toll in France or in the UK. Warsaw was reduced to a sea of rubble, with perhaps one in ten buildings still standing by the end of the war.

With the collapse of the Third Reich, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin held a meeting in Yalta to decide the new order for war-torn Europe. At Stalin’s behest, Poland and its neighboring countries were placed under Soviet political and military control, forming what has become known as the Eastern Bloc.

Over the next several decades, the Soviet satellite states experienced widespread repression and economic decline. But weakened by the expense of the Cold War, the communist chokehold on the region eventually began to wane. In Poland, even the introduction of martial law in 1981 could not put an end to sweeping labor unrest. Narrowly dodging the specter of Soviet intervention, the country regained its independence in 1989 and elected its first democratic government; many other Eastern Bloc countries soon followed suit.

Ever since then, Poland has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and has emerged as one of the more robust capitalist democracies in the region. In just two decades, it shed many of its backwardly, state-run heavy industries and adopted a modern, service-oriented economy. But the effects of the devastating war and the lost decades under communist rule still linger on – whether you look at the country’s infrastructure, at its socrealist cityscapes, at its political traditions, or at the depressingly low median wage.

When thinking about the American involvement in the Cold War, people around the world may recall Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, or the proxy wars fought in the Middle East. But in Poland and many of its neighboring states, the picture you remember the most is the fall of the Berlin Wall.

– 2 –

I was born in Warsaw in the winter of 1981, at the onset of martial law, with armored vehicles rolling onto Polish streets. My mother, like many of her generation, moved to the capital in the sixties as a part of an effort to rebuild and repopulate the war-torn city. My grandma would tell eerie stories of Germans and Soviets marching through their home village somewhere in the west. I liked listening to the stories; almost every family in Poland had some to tell.

I did not get to know my father. I knew his name; he was a noted cinematographer who worked on big-ticket productions back in the day. He left my mother when I was very young and never showed interest in staying in touch. He had a wife and other children, so it might have been that.

Compared to him, mom hasn’t done well for herself. We ended up in social housing in one of the worst parts of the city, on the right bank of the Vistula river. My early memories from school are that of classmates sniffing glue from crumpled grocery bags. I remember my family waiting in lines for rationed toilet paper and meat. As a kid, you don’t think about it much.

The fall of communism came suddenly. I have a memory of grandma listening to broadcasts from Radio Free Europe, but I did not understand what they were all about. I remember my family cheering one afternoon, transfixed to a black-and-white TV screen. I recall my Russian language class morphing into English; I had my first taste of bananas and grapefruits. There is the image of the monument of Feliks Dzierżyński coming down. I remember being able to go to a better school on the other side of Warsaw – and getting mugged many times on the way.

The transformation brought great wealth to some, but many others have struggled to find their place in the fledgling and sometimes ruthless capitalist economy. Well-educated and well read, my mom ended up in the latter pack, at times barely making ends meet. I think she was in part a victim of circumstance, and in part a slave to way of thinking that did not permit the possibility of taking chances or pursuing happiness.

– 3 –

Mother always frowned upon popular culture, seeing it as unworthy of an educated mind. For a time, she insisted that I only listen to classical music. She angrily shunned video games, comic books, and cartoons. I think she perceived technology as trivia; the only field of science she held in high regard was abstract mathematics, perhaps for its detachment from the mundane world. She hoped that I would learn Latin, a language she could read and write; that I would practice drawing and painting; or that I would read more of the classics of modernist literature.

Of course, I did almost none of that. I hid my grunge rock tapes between Tchaikovsky, listened to the radio under the sheets, and watched the reruns of The A-Team while waiting for her to come back from work. I liked electronics and chemistry a lot more than math. And when I laid my hands on my first computer – an 8-bit relic of British engineering from 1982 – I soon knew that these machines, in their incredible complexity and flexibility, were what I wanted to spend my time on.

I suspected I could become a competent programmer, but never had enough faith in my skill. Yet, in learning about computers, I realized that I had a knack for understanding complex systems and poking holes in how they work. With a couple of friends, we joined the nascent information security community in Europe, comparing notes on mailing lists. Before long, we were taking on serious consulting projects for banks and the government – usually on weekends and after school, but sometimes skipping a class or two. Well, sometimes more than that.

All of the sudden, I was facing an odd choice. I could stop, stay in school and try to get a degree – going back every night to a cramped apartment, my mom sleeping on a folding bed in the kitchen, my personal space limited to a bare futon and a tiny desk. Or, I could seize the moment and try to make it on my own, without hoping that one day, my family would be able to give me a head start.

I moved out, dropped out of school, and took on a full-time job. It paid somewhere around $12,000 a year – a pittance anywhere west of the border, but a solid wage in Poland even today. Not much later, I was making two times as much, about the upper end of what one could hope for in this line of work. I promised myself to keep taking courses after hours, but I wasn’t good at sticking to the plan. I moved in with my girlfriend, and at the age of 19, I felt for the first time that things were going to be all right.

– 4 –

Growing up in Europe, you get used to the barrage of low-brow swipes taken at the United States. Your local news will never pass up the opportunity to snicker about the advances of creationism somewhere in Kentucky. You can stay tuned for a panel of experts telling you about the vastly inferior schools, the medieval justice system, and the striking social inequality on the other side of the pond. You don’t doubt their words – but deep down inside, no matter how smug the critics are, or how seemingly convincing their arguments, the American culture still draws you in.

My moment of truth came in the summer of 2000. A company from Boston asked me if I’d like to talk about a position on their research team; I looked at the five-digit figure and could not believe my luck. Moving to the US was an unreasonable risk for a kid who could barely speak English and had no safety net to fall back to. But that did not matter: I knew I had no prospects of financial independence in Poland – and besides, I simply needed to experience the New World through my own eyes.

Of course, even with a job offer in hand, getting into the United States is not an easy task. An engineering degree and a willing employer opens up a straightforward path; it is simple enough that some companies would abuse the process to source cheap labor for menial, low-level jobs. With a visa tied to the petitioning company, such captive employees could not seek better wages or more rewarding work.

But without a degree, the options shrink drastically. For me, the only route would be a seldom-granted visa reserved for extraordinary skill – meant for the recipients of the Nobel Prize and other folks who truly stand out in their field of expertise. The attorneys looked over my publication record, citations, and the supporting letters from other well-known people in the field. Especially given my age, they thought we had a good shot. A few stressful months later, it turned out that they were right.

On the week of my twentieth birthday, I packed two suitcases and boarded a plane to Boston. My girlfriend joined me, miraculously securing a scholarship at a local university to continue her physics degree; her father helped her with some of the costs. We had no idea what we were doing; we had perhaps few hundred bucks on us, enough to get us through the first couple of days. Four thousand miles away from our place of birth, we were starting a brand new life.

– 5 –

The cultural shock gets you, but not in the sense you imagine. You expect big contrasts, a single eye-opening day to remember for the rest of your life. But driving down a highway in the middle of a New England winter, I couldn’t believe how ordinary the world looked: just trees, boxy buildings, and pavements blanketed with dirty snow.

Instead of a moment of awe, you drown in a sea of small, inconsequential things, draining your energy and making you feel helpless and lost. It’s how you turn on the shower; it’s where you can find a grocery store; it’s what they meant by that incessant “paper or plastic” question at the checkout line. It’s how you get a mailbox key, how you make international calls, it’s how you pay your bills with a check. It’s the rules at the roundabout, it’s your social security number, it’s picking the right toll lane, it’s getting your laundry done. It’s setting up a dial-up account and finding the food you like in the sea of unfamiliar brands. It’s doing all this without Google Maps or a Facebook group to connect with other expats nearby.

The other thing you don’t expect is losing touch with your old friends; you can call or e-mail them every day, but your social frames of reference begin to drift apart, leaving less and less to talk about. The acquaintances you make in the office will probably never replace the folks you grew up with. We managed, but we weren’t prepared for that.

– 6 –

In the summer, we had friends from Poland staying over for a couple of weeks. By the end of their trip, they asked to visit New York City one more time; we liked the Big Apple, so we took them on a familiar ride down I-95. One of them went to see the top of World Trade Center; the rest of us just walked around, grabbing something to eat before we all headed back. A few days later, we were all standing in front of a TV, watching September 11 unfold in real time.

We felt horror and outrage. But when we roamed the unsettlingly quiet streets of Boston, greeted by flags and cardboard signs urging American drivers to honk, we understood that we were strangers a long way from home – and that our future in this country hanged in the balance more than we would have thought.

Permanent residency is a status that gives a foreigner the right to live in the US and do almost anything they please – change jobs, start a business, or live off one’s savings all the same. For many immigrants, the pursuit of this privilege can take a decade or more; for some others, it stays forever out of reach, forcing them to abandon the country in a matter of days as their visas expire or companies fold. With my O-1 visa, I always counted myself among the lucky ones. Sure, it tied me to an employer, but I figured that sorting it out wouldn’t be a big deal.

That proved to be a mistake. In the wake of 9/11, an agency known as Immigration and Naturalization Services was being dismantled and replaced by a division within the Department of Homeland Security. My own seemingly straightforward immigration petition ended up somewhere in the bureaucratic vacuum that formed in between the two administrative bodies. I waited patiently, watching the deepening market slump, and seeing my employer’s prospects get dimmer and dimmer every month. I was ready for the inevitable, with other offers in hand, prepared to make my move perhaps the very first moment I could. But the paperwork just would not come through. With the Boston office finally shutting down, we packed our bags and booked flights. We faced the painful admission that for three years, we chased nothing but a pipe dream. The only thing we had to show for it were two adopted cats, now sitting frightened somewhere in the cargo hold.

The now-worthless approval came through two months later; the lawyers, cheerful as ever, were happy to send me a scan. The hollowed-out remnants of my former employer were eventually bought by Symantec – the very place from where I had my backup offer in hand.

– 7 –

In a way, Europe’s obsession with America’s flaws made it easier to come home without ever explaining how the adventure really played out. When asked, I could just wing it: a mention of the death penalty or permissive gun laws would always get you a knowing nod, allowing the conversation to move on.

Playing to other people’s preconceptions takes little effort; lying to yourself calls for more skill. It doesn’t help that when you come back after three years away from home, you notice all the small annoyances that you used to simply tune out. Back then, Warsaw still had a run-down vibe: the dilapidated road from the airport; the drab buildings on the other side of the river; the uneven pavements littered with dog poop; the dirty walls at my mother’s place, with barely any space to turn. You can live with it, of course – but it’s a reminder that you settled for less, and it’s a sensation that follows you every step of the way.

But more than the sights, I couldn’t forgive myself something else: that I was coming back home with just loose change in my pocket. There are some things that a failed communist state won’t teach you, and personal finance is one of them; I always looked at money just as a reward for work, something you get to spend to brighten your day. The indulgences were never extravagant: perhaps I would take the cab more often, or have take-out every day. But no matter how much I made, I kept living paycheck-to-paycheck – the only way I knew, the way our family always did.

– 8 –

With a three-year stint in the US on your resume, you don’t have a hard time finding a job in Poland. You face the music in a different way. I ended up with a salary around a fourth of what I used to make in Massachusetts, but I simply decided not to think about it much. I wanted to settle down, work on interesting projects, marry my girlfriend, have a child. I started doing consulting work whenever I could, setting almost all the proceeds aside.

After four years with T-Mobile in Poland, I had enough saved to get us through a year or so – and in a way, it changed the way I looked at my work. Being able to take on ambitious challenges and learn new things started to matter more than jumping ships for a modest salary bump. Burned by the folly of pursuing riches in a foreign land, I put a premium on boring professional growth.

Comically, all this introspection made me realize that from where I stood, I had almost nowhere left to go. Sure, Poland had telcos, refineries, banks – but they all consumed the technologies developed elsewhere, shipped here in a shrink-wrapped box; as far as their IT went, you could hardly tell the companies apart. To be a part of the cutting edge, you had to pack your bags, book a flight, and take a jump into the unknown. I sure as heck wasn’t ready for that again.

And then, out of the blue, Google swooped in with an offer to work for them from the comfort of my home, dialing in for a videoconference every now and then. The starting pay was about the same, but I had no second thoughts. I didn’t say it out loud, but deep down inside, I already knew what needed to happen next.

– 9 –

We moved back to the US in 2009, two years after taking the job, already on the hook for a good chunk of Google’s product security and with the comfort of knowing where we stood. In a sense, my motive was petty: you could call it a desire to vindicate a failed adolescent dream. But in many other ways, I have grown fond of the country that shunned us once before; and I wanted our children to grow up without ever having to face the tough choices and the uncertain prospects I had to deal with in my earlier years.

This time, we knew exactly what to do: a quick stop at a grocery store on a way from the airport, followed by e-mail to our immigration folks to get the green card paperwork out the door. A bit more than half a decade later, we were standing in a theater in Campbell, reciting the Oath of Allegiance and clinging on to our new certificates of US citizenship.

The ceremony closed a long and interesting chapter in my life. But more importantly, standing in that hall with people from all over the globe made me realize that my story is not extraordinary; many of them had lived through experiences far more harrowing and captivating than mine. If anything, my tale is hard to tell apart from that of countless other immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc. By some estimates, in the US alone, the Polish diaspora is about 9 million strong.

I know that the Poland of today is not the Poland I grew up in. It’s not not even the Poland I came back to in 2003; the gap to Western Europe is shrinking every single year. But I am grateful to now live in a country that welcomes more immigrants than any other place on Earth – and at the end of their journey, makes many of them them feel at home. It also makes me realize how small and misguided must be the conversations we are having about immigration – not just here, but all over the developed world.

To explore other articles in this short series about Poland, click here. You can also directly proceed to the next entry here.

On journeys

Post Syndicated from Michal Zalewski original http://lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2015/03/on-journeys.html

– 1 –

Poland is an ancient country whose history is deeply intertwined with that of the western civilization. In its glory days, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth sprawled across vast expanses of land in central Europe, from Black Sea to Baltic Sea. But over the past two centuries, it suffered a series of military defeats and political partitions at the hands of its closest neighbors: Russia, Austria, Prussia, and – later – Germany.

After more than a hundred years of foreign rule, Poland re-emerged as an independent state in 1918, only to face the armies of Nazi Germany at the onset of World War II. With Poland’s European allies reneging on their earlier military guarantees, the fierce fighting left the country in ruins. Some six million people have died within its borders – more than ten times the death toll in France or in the UK. Warsaw was reduced to a sea of rubble, with perhaps one in ten buildings still standing by the end of the war.

With the collapse of the Third Reich, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin sat down in Yalta to decide the new order for war-torn Europe. At Stalin’s behest, Poland and its neighboring countries were placed under Soviet political and military control, forming what has become known as the Eastern Bloc.

Over the next several decades, the Soviet satellite states experienced widespread repression and economic decline. But weakened by the expense of the Cold War, the communist chokehold on the region eventually began to wane. In Poland, the introduction of martial law in 1981 could not put an end to sweeping labor unrest. Narrowly dodging the specter of Soviet intervention, the country regained its independence in 1989 and elected its first democratic government; many other Eastern Bloc countries soon followed suit.

Ever since then, Poland has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and has emerged as one of the more robust capitalist democracies in the region. In just two decades, it shed many of its backwardly, state-run heavy industries and adopted a modern, service-oriented economy. But the effects of the devastating war and the lost decades under communist rule still linger on – whether you look at the country’s infrastructure, at its socrealist cityscapes, at its political traditions, or at the depressingly low median wage.

When thinking about the American involvement in the Cold War, people around the world may recall Vietnam, Bay of Pigs, or the proxy wars fought in the Middle East. But in Poland and many of its neighboring states, the picture you remember the most is the fall of the Berlin Wall.

– 2 –

I was born in Warsaw in the winter of 1981, at the onset of martial law, with armored vehicles rolling onto Polish streets. My mother, like many of her generation, moved to the capital in the sixties as a part of an effort to rebuild and repopulate the war-torn city. My grandma would tell eerie stories of Germans and Soviets marching through their home village somewhere in the west. I liked listening to the stories; almost every family in Poland had some to tell.

I did not get to know my father. I knew his name; he was a noted cinematographer who worked on big-ticket productions back in the day. He left my mother when I was very young and never showed interest in staying in touch. He had a wife and other children, so it might have been that.

Compared to him, mom hasn’t done well for herself. We ended up in social housing in one of the worst parts of the city, on the right bank of the Vistula river. My early memories from school are that of classmates sniffing glue from crumpled grocery bags. I remember my family waiting in lines for rationed toilet paper and meat. As a kid, you don’t think about it much.

The fall of communism came suddenly. I have a memory of grandma listening to broadcasts from Radio Free Europe, but I did not understand what they were all about. I remember my family cheering one afternoon, transfixed to a black-and-white TV screen. I recall my Russian language class morphing into English; I had my first taste of bananas and grapefruits. There is the image of the monument of Feliks Dzierżyński coming down. I remember being able to go to a better school on the other side of Warsaw – and getting mugged many times on the way.

The transformation brought great wealth to some, but many others have struggled to find their place in the fledgling and sometimes ruthless capitalist economy. Well-educated and well read, my mom ended up in the latter pack, at times barely making ends meet. I think she was in part a victim of circumstance, and in part a slave to way of thinking that did not permit the possibility of taking chances or pursuing happiness.

– 3 –

Mother always frowned upon popular culture, seeing it as unworthy of an educated mind. For a time, she insisted that I only listen to classical music. She angrily shunned video games, comic books, and cartoons. I think she perceived technology as trivia; the only field of science she held in high regard was abstract mathematics, perhaps for its detachment from the mundane world. She hoped that I would learn Latin, a language she could read and write; that I would practice drawing and painting; or that I would read more of the classics of modernist literature.

Of course, I did almost none of that. I hid my grunge rock tapes between Tchaikovsky, listened to the radio under the sheets, and watched the reruns of The A-Team while waiting for her to come back from work. I liked electronics and chemistry a lot more than math. And when I laid my hands on my first computer – an 8-bit relic of British engineering from 1982 – I soon knew that these machines, in their incredible complexity and flexibility, were what I wanted to spend my time on.

I suspected I could be a competent programmer, but never had enough faith in my skill. Yet, in learning about computers, I realized that I had a knack for understanding complex systems and poking holes in how they work. With a couple of friends, we joined the nascent information security community in Europe, comparing notes on mailing lists. Before long, we were taking on serious consulting projects for banks and the government – usually on weekends and after school, but sometimes skipping a class or two. Well, sometimes more than that.

All of the sudden, I was facing an odd choice. I could stop, stay in school and try to get a degree – going back every night to a cramped apartment, my mom sleeping on a folding bed in the kitchen, my personal space limited to a bare futon and a tiny desk. Or, I could seize the moment and try to make it on my own, without hoping that one day, my family would be able to give me a head start.

I moved out, dropped out of school, and took on a full-time job. It paid somewhere around $12,000 a year – a pittance anywhere west of the border, but a solid wage in Poland even today. Not much later, I was making two times as much, about the upper end of what one could hope for in this line of work. I promised myself to keep taking courses after hours, but I wasn’t good at sticking to the plan. I moved in with my girlfriend, and at the age of 19, I felt for the first time that things were going to be all right.

– 4 –

Growing up in Europe, you get used to the barrage of low-brow swipes taken at the United States. Your local news will never pass up the opportunity to snicker about the advances of creationism somewhere in Kentucky. You can stay tuned for a panel of experts telling you about the vastly inferior schools, the medieval justice system, and the striking social inequality on the other side of the pond. You don’t doubt their words – but deep down inside, no matter how smug the critics are, or how seemingly convincing their arguments, the American culture still draws you in.

My moment of truth came in the summer of 2000. A company from Boston asked me if I’d like to talk about a position on their research team; I looked at the five-digit figure and could not believe my luck. Moving to the US was an unreasonable risk for a kid who could barely speak English and had no safety net to fall back to. But that did not matter: I knew I had no prospects of financial independence in Poland – and besides, I simply needed to experience the New World through my own eyes.

Of course, even with a job offer in hand, getting into the United States is not an easy task. An engineering degree and a willing employer opens up a straightforward path; it is simple enough that some companies would abuse the process to source cheap labor for menial, low-level jobs. With a visa tied to the petitioning company, such captive employees could not seek better wages or more rewarding work.

But without a degree, the options shrink drastically. For me, the only route would be a seldom-granted visa reserved for extraordinary skill – meant for the recipients of the Nobel Prize and other folks who truly stand out in their field of expertise. The attorneys looked over my publication record, citations, and the supporting letters from other well-known people in the field. Especially given my age, they thought we had a good shot. A few stressful months later, it turned out that they were right.

On the week of my twentieth birthday, I packed two suitcases and boarded a plane to Boston. My girlfriend joined me, miraculously securing a scholarship at a local university to continue her physics degree; her father helped her with some of the costs. We had no idea what we were doing; we had perhaps few hundred bucks on us, enough to get us through the first couple of days. Four thousand miles away from our place of birth, we were starting a brand new life.

– 5 –

The cultural shock gets you, but not in the sense you imagine. You expect big contrasts, a single eye-opening day to remember for the rest of your life. But driving down a highway in the middle of a New England winter, I couldn’t believe how ordinary the world looked: just trees, boxy buildings, and pavements blanketed with dirty snow.

Instead of a moment of awe, you drown in a sea of small, inconsequential things, draining your energy and making you feel helpless and lost. It’s how you turn on the shower; it’s where you can find a grocery store; it’s what they meant by that incessant “paper or plastic” question at the checkout line. It’s how you get a mailbox key, how you make international calls, it’s how you pay your bills with a check. It’s the rules at the roundabout, it’s your social security number, it’s picking the right toll lane, it’s getting your laundry done. It’s setting up a dial-up account and finding the food you like in the sea of unfamiliar brands. It’s doing all this without Google Maps or a Facebook group to connect with other expats nearby.

The other thing you don’t expect is losing touch with your old friends; you can call or e-mail them every day, but your social frames of reference begin to drift apart, leaving less and less to talk about. The acquaintances you make in the office will probably never replace the folks you grew up with. We managed, but we weren’t prepared for that.

– 6 –

In the summer, we had friends from Poland staying over for a couple of weeks. By the end of their trip, they asked to visit New York City one more time; we liked the Big Apple, so we took them on a familiar ride down I-95. One of them went to see the top of World Trade Center; the rest of us just walked around, grabbing something to eat before we all headed back. A few days later, we were all standing in front of a TV, watching September 11 unfold in real time.

We felt horror and outrage. But when we roamed the unsettlingly quiet streets of Boston, greeted by flags and cardboard signs urging American drivers to honk, we understood that we were strangers a long way from home – and that our future in this country hanged in the balance more than we would have thought.

Permanent residency is a status that gives a foreigner the right to live in the US and do almost anything they please – change jobs, start a business, or live off one’s savings all the same. For many immigrants, the pursuit of this privilege can take a decade or more; for some others, it stays forever out of reach, forcing them to abandon the country in a matter of days as their visas expire or companies fold. With my O-1 visa, I always counted myself among the lucky ones. Sure, it tied me to an employer, but I figured that sorting it out wouldn’t be a big deal.

That proved to be a mistake. In the wake of 9/11, an agency known as Immigration and Naturalization Services was being dismantled and replaced by a division within the Department of Homeland Security. My own seemingly straightforward immigration petition ended up somewhere in the bureaucratic vacuum that formed in between the two administrative bodies. I waited patiently, watching the deepening market slump, and seeing my employer’s prospects get dimmer and dimmer every month. I was ready for the inevitable, with other offers in hand, prepared to make my move perhaps the very first moment I could. But the paperwork just would not come through. With the Boston office finally shutting down, we packed our bags and booked flights. We faced the painful admission that for three years, we chased nothing but a pipe dream. The only thing we had to show for it were two adopted cats, now sitting frightened somewhere in the cargo hold.

The now-worthless approval came through two months later; the lawyers, cheerful as ever, were happy to send me a scan. The hollowed-out remnants of my former employer were eventually bought by Symantec – the very place from where I had my backup offer in hand.

– 7 –

In a way, Europe’s obsession with America’s flaws made it easier to come home without ever explaining how the adventure really played out. When asked, I could just wing it: a mention of the death penalty or permissive gun laws would always get you a knowing nod, allowing the conversation to move on.

Playing to other people’s preconceptions takes little effort; lying to yourself calls for more skill. It doesn’t help that when you come back after three years away from home, you notice all the small annoyances that you used to simply tune out. Back then, Warsaw still had a run-down vibe: the dilapidated road from the airport; the drab buildings on the other side of the river; the uneven pavements littered with dog poop; the dirty walls at my mother’s place, with barely any space to turn. You can live with it, of course – but it’s a reminder that you settled for less, and it’s a sensation that follows you every step of the way.

But more than the sights, I couldn’t forgive myself something else: that I was coming back home with just loose change in my pocket. There are some things that a failed communist state won’t teach you, and personal finance is one of them; I always looked at money just as a reward for work, something you get to spend to brighten your day. The indulgences were never extravagant: perhaps I would take the cab more often, or have take-out every day. But no matter how much I made, I kept living paycheck-to-paycheck – the only way I knew, the way our family always did.

– 8 –

With a three-year stint in the US on your resume, you don’t have a hard time finding a job in Poland. You face the music in a different way. I ended up with a salary around a fourth of what I used to make in Massachusetts, but I simply decided not to think about it much. I wanted to settle down, work on interesting projects, marry my girlfriend, have a child. I started doing consulting work whenever I could, setting almost all the proceeds aside.

After four years with T-Mobile in Poland, I had enough saved to get us through a year or so – and in a way, it changed the way I looked at my work. Being able to take on ambitious challenges and learn new things started to matter more than jumping ships for a modest salary bump. Burned by the folly of pursuing riches in a foreign land, I put a premium on boring professional growth.

Comically, all this introspection made me realize that from where I stood, I had almost nowhere left to go. Sure, Poland had telcos, refineries, banks – but they all consumed the technologies developed elsewhere, shipped here in a shrink-wrapped box; as far as their IT went, you could hardly tell the companies apart. To be a part of the cutting edge, you had to pack your bags, book a flight, and take a jump into the unknown. I sure as heck wasn’t ready for that again.

And then, out of the blue, Google swooped in with an offer to work for them from the comfort of my home, dialing in for a videoconference every now and then. The starting pay was about the same, but I had no second thoughts. I didn’t say it out loud, but deep down inside, I already knew what needed to happen next.

– 9 –

We moved back to the US in 2009, two years after taking the job, already on the hook for a good chunk of Google’s product security and with the comfort of knowing where we stood. In a sense, my motive was petty: you could call it a desire to vindicate a failed adolescent dream. But in many other ways, I have grown fond of the country that shunned us once before; and I wanted our children to grow up without ever having to face the tough choices and the uncertain prospects I had to deal with in my earlier years.

This time, we knew exactly what to do: a quick stop at a grocery store on a way from the airport, followed by e-mail to our immigration folks to get the green card paperwork out the door. A bit more than half a decade later, we were standing in a theater in Campbell, reciting the Oath of Allegiance and clinging on to our new certificates of US citizenship.

The ceremony closed a long and interesting chapter in my life. But more importantly, standing in that hall with people from all over the globe made me realize that my story is not extraordinary; many of them had lived through experiences far more harrowing and captivating than mine. If anything, my tale is hard to tell apart from that of countless other immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc. By some estimates, in the US alone, the Polish diaspora is about 9 million strong.

I know that the Poland of today is not the Poland I grew up in. It’s not not even the Poland I came back to in 2003; the gap to Western Europe is shrinking every single year. But I am grateful to now live in a country that welcomes more immigrants than any other place on Earth – and at the end of their journey, makes many of them them feel at home. It also makes me realize how small and misguided must be the conversations we are having about immigration – not just here, but all over the developed world.

To explore other articles in this short series about Poland, click here. You can also directly proceed to the next entry here.