Archive for the 'security' Category


International Day to Bite Me

I don’t know whether it’s because I stopped drinking coffee a few months ago, or passed the half-century mark a few months earlier, but nothing seems to bother me much anymore.   Not that I just let everything slide, but in dealing with obnoxious people or situations I’ve become a lot more mellow.  What’s the point of getting all in a lather anyway?  In most cases where you get all pissed off at someone or something, there two things at work: the situation and your reaction to it.   Only one of those is entirely in your control.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said about venting, in real life or right here.  So here goes.  Thank you, Deutschland über Elvis, he of the carefully worded, well-researched and always entertaining  posts on matters personal and cultural: may the third annual International Day to Bite Me be the success it deserves to be.


To the driver who honked and brayed at me from his rolled-down window because I was cycling with the traffic on the road instead of dodging pedestrians, spaced-out shoppers, dogshit and various obstructions found all too often on Hamburg’s laughably inadequate cycling path “network” – BITE ME!  Where the hell did you get your license, anyway?  It’s legal to ride on the road unless there’s a circular blue sign with a bike on it telling you otherwise.

To the pedestrian who yelled at me because I wasn’t on the cycling path but on the sidewalk because the cycling path is covered in tons of slippery grit left over from Hamburg’s spectacular failure to remove the December snows, not to mention the piles of filth left over from New Year’s Eve fireworks mayhem: BITE ME!

To the millions of brain-addled Germans who in an annual three-day orgy of mindless, wasteful consumerism spend upwards of 120 million frickin’ euros on fireworks for New Year’s leaving a heaving mess behind for weeks, months and years afterward – they NEVER clean it all up: BITE ME!

To the driver who assumed I was a jobless bum simply because I was cycling at noontime on a weekday: don’t you know some of us work shifts, full-time?  BITE ME!

To the grocery store nitwit who feels it’s his duty to tell me to put the items back in an orderly fashion on the shelf because “es gehört dazu” – BITE ME!  Do you have a cellphone?  Next time you see a federal crime in process, call a cop!

To the awful, pinched-faced cow supervising security at Gatwick Airport: lose the psycho bullshit!  Yes, your minions discovered a battery-powered iPod charger in my hand luggage and they –  in their ignorance of modern consumer technology – have every right to take every soiled piece of underwear out to inspect, rifle through every book, test every cranny for explosives and take apart and run the charger through a scanner a third time, but please: don’t stare at me for minutes on end while assuming some sort of accusatory tone when you ask me the routine questions.  Oh, and I almost forgot: BITE ME!


How to keep a bike thief at bay, if only for a while

This is for Yelli in Berlin, who, like the best two of the three of us, had her bike stolen.

Remember how we made the little red-haired girl’s bicycle too crappy to steal? We sent away for some stickers that make a new bike look all rusted and splotchy, so that a thief passing by wouldn’t give it a second look.

Last time I looked, she still had her bike, so it must be working.

cycling-bicycle-theft-lock-cut-throughBut a bicycle that we thought really did look too crappy to steal got ripped off sometime after we came back from our lovely weekend of cycling along the banks of the Elbe.

It was my wife’s bike and we’d bought it the week we moved to Hamburg after leaving Hong Kong in mid-1997.

I wonder if this is a sign of the times, a signal that things are getting so dire even for thieves that they’re willing to steal any bike that doesn’t have weeds wrapped around a rusty chain. I mean, the bike was 12 fucking years old!  It did have new parts on it, but not many, and the frame looked scratched up and sloppy.

Sometimes you hear a story where a stolen bike is found for sale on craiglist and somehow recovered, or like the commenter whose neighbour called out for Chinese food and was astounded to see the delivery guy riding her own bike which had been stolen a year before, but those are huge exceptions.

Most stolen bikes are never recovered, so how can you make sure you can lessen the chances of having your bike stolen?

In my opinion the best way is to make sure you have a damn good lock – or two – and no matter what you’re using, never leave it outside overnight.

So which lock to buy?

I’ll tell you which one not to buy, and that’s any lock with a wire cable like the one in the photo. Even the best ones can be snapped through with a set of bolt-cutters. We were dumb enough to assume my wife’s old bike wasn’t worth stealing, and so only had an Abus security level 8 cable lock on it, the same kind of lock which had been snapped through six months before on the little red-haired girl’s new one.

The U-shaped locks made famous by Kryptonite are perhaps the best choice, but they have their likryptonite new yourk fahgettaboudit u-lockmitations. They’re heavy, you can’t put them around both wheels unless you remove one, and they’re awkward to work with.

That said, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-lock rated highest in security in a survey. also raved about it, saying the small size makes it nearly impossible to lever apart.

Though they are probably less secure I prefer a chain, especially the Abus line, because they’re easier to work with. Abus grades its security on various levels from 1 to 25. A level 25 lock is the heaviest and made for securing motorcycles, but cyclists can also use them for locking them up overnight inside if you’re careful not to bend spokes working it through the wheels. This chain is extremely heavy though, and not meant to be lugged around on a bicycle. It’s also really expensive.

The next step down is the one I have – the Citychain level 15. It’s a good compromise between ease of use, weight, price and security. I bought one for home and one for the office. I leave one at the office locked up around a post and one at home so I don’t have to haul it back and forth.

bicycle-abus-granit-wba100-wall-floor-anchor-wandankerIf you have a place in your building to install one, pick up a wall anchor, because simply locking even the best lock around the frame and wheel is no good.  The lock must be around a fixed object – especially if you have insurance on it, which I’ll get to later.

You need a decent hammer drill to install the bolts, but once it’s in, it’s in for life. I suppose you could remove it with a jackhammer, but if a thief is going to use a jackhammer it’s going to attract a bit of attention.

For those who can’t avoid locking up their bike in a high-traffic area, it helps to have two different types of locks. That way, a thief who specialises in breaking open a certain type of lock will pass yours up, unless he has both the expertise and the tools to break into the combination of locks he finds on yours. Worth thinking about if you really value your bike.

Another thing to seriously consider is bicycle insurance, because you can practically forget everything you’ve read up to now. ALL bike locks can be broken into.

A very short clip:

In Germany you can insure your new bicycle against all perils including vandalism, misuse, breakage, wear and tear, sheer stupidity, and of course theft. The monthly rate you pay is based on the retail price of your new bike. As long as you buy a lock worth at least 20 euro – which seems to me like a rather cheap lock – and the bike is locked up to a fixed object through the frame, the bike is insured 24 hours a day. The price is based on a sliding scale according to what you paid for the new bike and lock, which is also insured.

Check it all out – in German – at

It may look expensive to pay, say, 15 bucks every month for insurance, but when you consider how much it costs even to get a blown tire repaired at a bike shop, let alone replace worn brakes, chains, sprockets, bearings and chainrings, it’s probably worth it in the long run. And you have the peace of mind that if the bike is stolen, something that seems to be happening way too often these days, you can get it replaced no problem.

And with someone else doing all the repairs, no black grease to clean off your fingers anymore, either.

PS: There is simply no end to the debate over which lock to get.  Check out the bike forums and get spoked.


So where were you on September 11, 2001?

Sometime around three in the afternoon Central European Summer Time on September 11, 2001, I was trying to get the key into the front door with one hand while holding on to my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter with the other.

Suddenly our downstairs neighbour – a colleague of my wife and friend to us both – was standing beside me shaking, tears in her eyes.

She was babbling.

There’s something horrible going on, she said. In New York. Planes have smashed into the World Trade Center!

It was the first I’d heard of it, and I looked right into her eyes and said the first thing that came to me:

Weltkrieg. World War.

I pushed open the door and my mother, who was over from Canada visiting, was sitting on the couch pointing at the television.

You’re not going to believe this, she said.

Mom, turn it off, I said. Please, just turn it OFF.

I had visions of having to drag a frightened and screaming child onto planes for the next five years if what was playing out before us got burned into her psyche.


That’s where we’re still at, six years later.

And if you look at the piece of theatre played out in New York today, you have to ask yourself: do we have to do this every year? Can’t we just move on?

Six or 60 years from now, will we still see acted out this same old ritual? Will we still have to watch these ceremonies laid before us, hear these names recited, these stories retold over and over until a solid layer of myth keeps it alive long after that day’s last survivor is gone and buried?

Of course we will. Get used to it. September 11 the tragedy is now September 11 the myth, the 9-11 emotional patriotic emergency code, the story that will now be passed from one generation to the next: we survived, we came back, we went after them.

After whom? The Iraqis, of course. They were behind it, weren’t they? And even if they weren’t, their involvement would have to be invented.

Tell me if you hear anybody in favour of this eternal war on terror saying today that Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks. Because as long as the mistaken perception that it did lives on, these memorials will always have a purpose.

September 11 has taken on the same role for Americans which November 11 always used to be for Canadians.

We call it Remembrance Day. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians stand for a minute’s silence to honour the soldiers who died in the two world wars.

Because November 11 is a statutory holiday, we schoolchildren held the ceremony the day before.

There’d be plastic poppies on pins, poems and prayers and a few bent, grey-haired guys from the Royal Canadian Legion up in front, their jackets pressed clean and chests twinkling with medals. One of the Grade Sevens would have the honour of standing up and reading In Flanders Fields.

I always got the feeling the whole thing was somehow wrong, that we should work toward ending war instead of playing up the heroism, the pageantry, the myths. The Vietnam war was still going on with everyone asking: what was it good for, what was it proving, where was it leading?

Still asking the same questions.

© 2007 lettershometoyou

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Exporting paranoia: how the American war on terror is starting to terrorise Germany and how you can cope with it

For those of you who may have missed it over the weekend, press reports say that terrorists trained in Pakistan have slipped into Germany over the past little while. They’re planning to kill us innocent folk at random partly because the German army has 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan working as part of the international force to piss off the poppy-growers rebuild the country.


I’m sure it all makes sense to our Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose efforts to scare the public into thinking they’re in danger of attack and to clamp down on civil liberties to combat a threat – real or imagined – has inspired the more artistic among the hoi polloi to start stencilling his image on the wall.

Oh, you remember the Stasi, don’t you? The State Security branch of the former East Germany? Spied on people – terrorised them?

Schaeuble is trying his best to push through measures which amount to the most invasive encroachment on civil liberties on German soil since the start of the Cold War. Scariest among them is his wish to allow online searches of people they just don’t like.

In other words, the government here would have the right to somehow secretly install a keylogger in your computer so they could track everything you do online. Every email, every search, every chat, every forum post. Everything.

How they would get beyond a well-maintained firewall is beyond me, but fortunately they’ve just told him he can’t have his way – at least not for now, anyway.

This all fits a pattern of course. The US Department of Homeland Security – a most Orwellian of labels if there ever was one – perfected the art of keeping the populace in a state of constant paranoia almost from the day it was formed a year or so after September 11, 2001. Anyone remember all those scares about white powder in envelopes a few years back? Duct tape? Orange Alerts? No surprise that this has been accompanied by an erosion of civil liberties including a warrantless surveillance program.

Like with everything else originating in the United States, it takes a few years to wash over onto our shores, but eventually it makes it here.

Is resistance futile? Perhaps not.

For those hoping to survive the coming onslaught of terror attacks in Germany, here are a few tips:

  • Don’t walk, cycle, drive or take a taxi. In 2006 there were a total of about 5,000 traffic deaths in Germany. The media plays this as good news here, because the numbers have been declining every year from a high around 20,000 in 1970.
  • Don’t take the train. You never know.
  • Don’t take a bus. You’ve seen how they can blow apart so easily.
  • Be suspicious of your neighbour, especially if he looks foreign. If you see a group of five or more, report them to the police. You never know.
  • Don’t go shopping. Above all, avoid public markets and squares. You never know.
  • Report fat people at once. That could actually be a suicide belt. You never know.
  • Remind people that because the terror cell which perpetrated the attacks of September 11 camped out in a suburb of Hamburg, it could happen again.
  • Keep the hype going by reminding people that Germany was targetted last year in a foiled suitcase bomb plot. Just don’t tell anyone that of the nearly 500 terrorist attacks or plots in the whole of Europe in 2006, that was the only one carried out by Islamists.
  • The day the first terrorist attack hits, make sure you turn around and tell me, “I told you so.” To that I’ll respond: yeah, and in the meantime, another thousand people have died on roads in this country. Another 50,000 died in Hamburg during the Hiroshima of Germany. You think we’ve got problems today? Sure, there are always problems. LIFE is a problem. Deal with it. LIVE it.

Or have we forgotten what a great American once said? The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself.

© 2007 lettershometoyou


Terrorist attack thwarted in luggage raid

we interrupt this blog to bring you a special dispatch from Definitely Not the Daily News.

by some guy we fished out of a gutter Special Correspondent

Edmonton (DNTN) A WestJet plane from Edmonton landed safely in Vancouver early last week, its 117 passengers and seven crew members completely unaware that a major terrorist attack had been thwarted just hours before take-off. Edmonton airport officials say they have tightened security in the wake of the incident, in which a male passenger identified only as “Ian” tried to get through security with a pair of banned substances.

“I first noticed that he looked incredibly relaxed and had a nice tan, which is a sure tip-off under our profiling scheme,” said Jusdoon Mejobbe, head of Throwing Things Away Unnecessarily at the Edmonton airplane take-off and landing facility.

“After his carry-on luggage went through the scanner, we did the usual. We asked him if he was the one who had packed the bag, and if it had been in his possession the whole time since he’d packed it. Then I asked him if we could open it.”

Mejobbe said he then went into Forbidden Liquid Inspector’s Pinching of Undesirable Toothpaste mode, or FLIPOUT.

“We opened the bag,” said Mejobbe, “and after sifting through layers of zip guns, depth charges, signal flares, gas canisters, switchblades, hash pipes, dynamite sticks, hydrogen bombs, terrorist manuals, Michael Moore DVDs, cocaine and dirty underwear, we noticed his toiletries kit contained two articles banned under Article D, subsection A, paragraph F, clause T of our regulations.”

Immediately calling out the airport police janitorial service under standard FLIPOUT and D.A.F.T. procedures to ascertain that the liquids were actually used for personal hygiene and protection from the sun and not explosives or anything that could go boom in any way, Mejobbe said he told the passenger of the serious contravention of Transport Canada regulations he had committed in trying to get banned liquids past security.

“We told him what we tell everybody. We treat everyone the same,” said Mejobbe. “It’s really quite simple. Since this was the first Sunday of the month and the Edmonton Eskimos had scored more than 25 points in each of their previous three Canadian Football League games including pre-season and at least 18 of them obtained by touchdown and two of those by a forward pass from a Canadian quarterback to a Canadian receiver, passengers were allowed to carry on any variety of liquid, toothpaste2.jpgprovided said liquids were in duct-tape sealed containers of not more than 27.8 ml each and separated from each other by a lead-lined barrier of at least 3cm so as not to provoke mixing or spontaneous combustion during take-off or landing. However since “Ian” had attempted to carry on a tube of toothpaste of 73.4 ml and a tube of sunblock the residue of which amounted to 24 ml but was housed in a container of 100 ml which contravenes our D.A.F.T. rules for what can and cannot be carried onto a device destined to be airborne under power from thingies which go whirr, we informed him that he must make a decision as to what to do.

“He could either check the liquids through checked baggage and thereby qualify for entry into our Grand Prize Draw for a trip for two to Absurdistan for having the smallest-ever piece of luggage to be sent to the hold of an Airbus A319, or we could keep them.”

The passenger, contacted by telephone at his home in Germany, said he did the sensible thing.

“I told them they could shove keep ’em,” he said. “Then I zipped up the bag and went for a beer. I ended up with sunburn and a case of Jungle Mouth so bad I had a whole row of seats to myself on the flight the next day to London, but what the hell. If that’s what it takes to keep planes flying safely these days, I’m all for it. Good thing they didn’t snag that case of KY though.

Damn. Did I say that out loud?

© 2007 lettershometoyou

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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