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October 20, 2007

Making Us Safer Every Day, Pt. II
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:03 PM *

Homeland Security has allegedly confiscated a hard-drive full of indie-pop music files.

Death Cab For Cutie Guitarist Baffled By Homeland Security’s Seizure Of His Album

When Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/producer Chris Walla woke up on Monday, his “To Do” list probably read something like this:

1. Call MTV News to discuss upcoming, long-delayed solo record.
2. Call U.S. Department of Homeland Security to discuss seizure of hard drive containing said long-delayed solo record.
3. Head into town for weekly tuque fitting.

Yes, it seems that recently, Walla’s solo record (which has been scheduled to come out at various points over the past, well, four years) took another step toward oblivion when the master hard drive — containing all song files — was confiscated by Homeland Security at the Canadian border, for reasons not abundantly clear, and sent to the department’s computer-forensics division for further inspection.

So, either Homeland Security has officially gone completely nuts, or Chris Walla has come up with the best version of The Dog Ate My Homework evah.

What’s customs even doing looking at hard drives, anyway?

“It’s a true story. Barsuk [Records, which is putting out the record] had hired a courier — who does international stuff all the time and who they had used before — to bring [the album] back from Canada, where I was working on it. And he got to the border and he had all his paperwork and it was all cool, only they turned him away, and they confiscated the drive and gave it to the computer-forensics division of our Homeland Security-type people,” sighed Walla, who has produced nearly all Death Cab’s output, as well as records by the Decemberists, Hot Hot Heat, Nada Surf, Tegan and Sara and others. “And now I couldn’t even venture a guess as to where it is, or what it’s doing there. I mean, I can’t just call their customer-service center and ask about my drive. There’s nothing I can do. I don’t know if we can hire an attorney … is there a black-hole attorney? You can’t take a black hole to court.”

Comments on Making Us Safer Every Day, Pt. II:
#1 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 12:25 PM:

Has the utter absurdity of this left everyone speechless?

#2 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 12:44 PM:

Sheesh! Hasn't anybody ever heard of backups? This should be an irritation, not a disaster.

#3 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 12:45 PM:

Serious response fails me.

My other responses:

If you can't stand the emo, all you have to do is NOT LISTEN.


Does this mean the Canadians will start seizing shipments of Toby Keith records in Customs as retaliation?

#4 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 12:45 PM:

Pretty much. You're not looking for common sense, practicality or logic when dealing with wingnuts... Governmental wingnuts the more so.

#5 ::: Alexandr Kazda ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 12:52 PM:

For me, the utter absurdity left me grateful for living in the Good Old Europe.

By the way, I'm afraid that there might exists a reason for customs people to go after people's hard drives -- USA has export restrictions on some encryption technologies. However, I did not find any similar import restriction, so I guess the TSA person thought something along the lines "By the looks of it, this hard drive is up to no good. We would better confiscate it."

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 12:57 PM:

As a matter of fact, Chris Walla claims he still has the original master tapes. So this isn't that much of a disaster, other than the fact that DHS seems to have jumped the shark about five sharks ago.

Keeping us safe from pop music?

#7 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:09 PM:

Alexandr @5: this sort of nonsense is quite feasible in Europe, too. (British Customs and Excise claim a right to inspect hard disks of computers going in and out of the country. No idea what they're looking for -- and I should add, this is anecdotal rather than based on personal experience -- but this is why there's at least one of my computers that does not cross frontiers, due to it having been used for research on technothrillerish subjects such as emergency and safety procedures in certain blank areas of the map.)

#8 ::: linnen ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:12 PM:

@6 James D McDonald;
"Keeping us safe from pop music?"

Well, yes. Because pop music, as you well know, might cause young people to start ...


#9 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:22 PM:

No backups? I dunno, the "Dog Ate My Homework" tack is sounding more likely.

Also: "Walla ensures you it isn't." I'm pretty certain the writer meant "assures," and generally shake my head at the downfall of humanity.

#10 ::: Johan Larson ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:26 PM:

linnen @8: Yes. Dancing. The Watusi.

(I get a kick out of the idea that a dance is named after an African ethnic group. I hope somewhere in Africa the latest craze is a dance named "Irishmen" or "Swedes".)

#11 ::: jillie ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Funny because I just finished reading an article about how indie music, like Death Cab for Cutie, is bad because you can't dance to it. At least according to New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones.

#12 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:36 PM:

From the article:

If it sounds like a huge joke, Walla ensures you it isn't.

Maybe the word choice tipped them off*†. That kind of thing makes the baby J Edgar Hoover cry.

* Yes, I know this is the fault of the MTV reporter, but still.
† If upside down stamps‡ are on the British police's list of reasons to suspect a bomb - despite the fact that British stamps all have the Queen's head on them, a universal indicator for This Way Up - then maybe bad grammar is too.
‡ Which I thought meant "I love you". What next - red roses are a sign of terrorism?

#13 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:36 PM:

Charlie @7, so that stuff about the Mukhabarat engaging in Cthulhu-summoning in _A Colder War_ was true, then!

I just knew it! ;)

(hang on, someone just knocked at my door ---

#14 ::: Jonah ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:57 PM:

This story sounds suspicious to me, but the fact that intelligent, well informed people find this story to be plausible certainly says something about how we perceive the DHS and the current security climate. As Bruce Schneier noted, when writing about the "sippy cup incident":

In this instance, the TSA is clearly in the right.

But there's a larger lesson here. Remember the Princeton professor who was put on the watch list for criticizing Bush? That was also untrue. Why is it that we all -- myself included -- believe these stories? Why are we so quick to assume that the TSA is a bunch of jack-booted thugs, officious and arbitrary and drunk with power?

It's because everything seems so arbitrary, because there's no accountability or transparency in the DHS. Rules and regulations change all the time, without any explanation or justification. Of course this kind of thing induces paranoia. It’s the sort of thing you read about in history books about East Germany and other police states. It's not what we expect out of 21st century America.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you that "True terror lies in the futility of human existence".

#15 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:01 PM:

Nix @13: never mind "A Colder War", in the original draft of "The Atrocity Archive", circa 1999-2000, for the Cthulhu-summoning in California I picked a bunch of swivel-eyed weirdos working for this Svengali figure called Osama bin Laden who ran an international terror network called Al Qaida.

In October 2001, when it was first being edited (for serialization in Spectrum SF) I got an email from Paul Fraser, the editor, saying: "Good call, Charlie, but could you maybe pick someone less well-known?"

I live in fear of someone in the DHS reading that book and having me Extraordinarily Rendered just in case I have occult knowledge that could help Dick Cheney immanetize the eschaton. (Especially this week, as one of the sillier predictions in "Halting State" just came true ...)

We are clearly living in a century co-written by Philip K. Dick and George Orwell.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:08 PM:

In this instance, the TSA is clearly in the right.

In my opinion the TSA should be disestablished immediately. Nothing that they possibly do, including sitting around doing crossword puzzles in their breakroom, could be clearly in the right.

#17 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:09 PM:

Department of Picky Details:

He says, "...gave it to the computer-forensics division of our Homeland Security-type people,”

Canadian DHS-equivalent, it sounds like, not US DHS. Not that that subtracts much from the weirdness of the story.

#18 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:19 PM:

‡ Which I thought meant "I love you". What next - red roses are a sign of terrorism?

That's how I learned it! ...but I do put them on sideways when I send in bills <g>.

...and the roses? Will DHS take on Hallmark and FTD? We may yet learn the power of Corporate America versus Federalist Amerika...

(sorry, obligatory 60's flashback)

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:20 PM:

The main character: Abi
The time: April 2007
The place: airport's security checkpoint as Abi prepares to fly to the USA from Europe

"What's this, Ma'am?"
"That's a sonic screwdriver."
"A what?"
"A sonic screwdriver. You know, from Doctor Who."
"Doctor Who? Sorry, Ma'am, but we can't let you thru with strange devices if you won't tell us what the name of this 'Doctor' is."
"It's not a real device. It's just a toy I'm bringing for Serge."
"And how old is this 'Surge'?"
"He's almost 52."
"You're bringing a toy for a 52-year-old man? Joe Bob! Call Homeland Security. Those terrorists must think we're stupid if they use cover stories that lame."

#20 ::: Jonah ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:22 PM:

Just to be clear, the "In this instance the TSA was clearly right" quote does not refer to the seizure of a hard drive full of indie music, but to another case where a woman was harassed for spilling (possibly intentionally) some liquid from here child's sippy cup. (Boing Boind has a decent summary of the whole thing here.) I don't actually agree that the TSA was "clearly right" in this case, but I still think the point Schneier is making is an important one, and the quote doesn't really make sense without the first sentence.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:26 PM:

Charlie Stross #15: And by Franz Kafka.

#22 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:29 PM: portable hard drive is my backup. Not my only one, mind you. But given that just a month and a half back I passed through the US-Canadian border with my laptop and my portable drive and 15000+ words worth of writing just barely completed on a week's retreat at Gibraltar point, I might be a little peeved if somebody tried to take that from me.

The real point though is not that the songs should have been backed up or that he could somehow digitally send them through other means. The point is that on a routine checkstop at the border, property was seized for no real reason and seemingly without recourse for recovery. (If they haven't got it back yet, why not? Were there no receipts issued?)

I'm not really liking that our government (or Canada's or anybody's) is taking the "Because we can" approach to this.

#23 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:31 PM:

Just as an FYI (no comment from me - just something I saw), from the Seattle PI story -

Mike Milne, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, described any suggestion of political motivation as baloney.

"These guys don't even know who Death Cab for Cutie is, let alone that he's doing political music," Milne said of the border guards.

Milne noted that child pornography is sometimes shipped across the border in hard drives. And - perhaps a more likely explanation - commercial items may not be imported through the Peace Arch crossing, but must go through the nearby Pacific Highway border point. Such commercial merchandise typically requires formal importing procedures.

"Recorded music is commercial material," Milne noted. "Chris Walla is a commercial entity in a multibillion-dollar industry."

#24 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:45 PM:

If they didn't know who he was, how did they know the hard drive was full of commercial items? Any professional writer crossing the border might also take with them a commercial item....

Maybe he told them, I guess.

It still sounds like DHS has screws loose.

#25 ::: jmnlman ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:46 PM:

They were probably looking for child porn. About every month or so someone gets busted coming through the Montana/Alberta crossing with that on their hard drives.

#26 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:48 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 15

With interstitial material supplied by David R. Bunch.

#27 ::: A. Jericho ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:50 PM:

#25 - Ah. That would explain it.

(I'm not the usual A.J. that posts here... sorry about post #24.)

#28 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 03:01 PM:

There is really a security concern about hard drives: they can hold a lot of information that would be useful to a terrorist. That said, it's simply not possible to intercept and analyze all the data that flows across the US borders; even just taking hard drives into account we're talking about at least tens or hundreds of terabytes per day, probably a lot more. This says more about the (lack of) guidelines used by DHS for whom to single out for extra checking, than it does about their sensibility in checking data storage devices.

And that encryption export restriction is just about as sensible as putting all men whose first name is Waleed on a no-fly list. If there's any information that demands in a deep bass voice to be free, it's encryption algorithms and codes. That stuff escaped into the wild long ago.

Of course, any sensible courier of sensitive data would burn it onto a DVD right in the middle of a recent romantic comedy movie, print the appropriate label on it, and put it in a disc carrier with a dozen unmodified movie DVDs. Even if some TSA agent looked at that particular disc they would never believe that a terrorist would be carrying such a movie. The transmission bandwidth is lower this way than with a hard disk, but it's much more secure against unhumorous DHS and TSA agents.

#29 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 03:20 PM:

Surely that sentence should have read "TSA is clearly to the right"?

#30 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 03:25 PM:

(Regional thread hijack. Who, me?)

I have been wondering, lately, how the sheduled construction at the Peace Arch crossing is going to effect the BC film industry, especially since a large number of actors live in Bellingham and the surroundings. Not to mention the 2010 Olympics.

The music and film industry in the NW has always viewed the international border as only slightly more important as the Skagit/Whatcom county line. (One could argue that this attitude has been present to a greater and lesser degree in the entire population, from pot growers and consumers to people doing their weekend grocery shopping). The past few years have delivered some short sharp shocks about the serious business of crossing national boundaries.

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 03:36 PM:

Bruce Coeh @ 28... Even if some TSA agent looked at that particular disc they would never believe that a terrorist would be carrying such a movie.

"I tell you, that movie sucked."

#32 ::: Ms. Jen ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 03:38 PM:

On Hard Drives and Backups: After my great "Airport Disaster of 2007" where my laptop took on a lot of water while on at the Philadelphia airport, I have been rigorous about backups. To that end, I back up to an external hard drive and to Amazon S3. I now have an account with Amazon S3, an ftp program (Transmit) that will access that account, and I back up all non-private data weekly to my S3 account.

Tiffany B. Brown on "Using Amazon S3 for hard drive backups"

It sounds like I am taking an extra step, but if I have another computer disaster, if my hard drive is "inspected", or if my house is broken into as along as Amazon has the service, I have access to my data, which for me is over 34,000 photos.

On What is Commercial: The DHS/TSA folks say that a musician is a commercial endeavor in a multi-million dollar business and that he went to the wrong check point for a commercial endeavor.

For those of us who write songs, write poetry, take photos, who are designers, developers, programmers, etc. and keep this data on our computers, are we "always" working when we take our computers with us on vacation or a non-busines holiday?

I think Mr. Milne's statement that his agents had not heard of Chris Walla, but as a musician he is commercial and thus his hard drive was subject to commercial search, to be troubling. Two weeks ago, I went through customs at Heathrow and was asked what I was traveling to the UK for. I answered truthfully, "a conference and a mini-vacation". I was asked what I do, "Web designer." The customs agent was very nice and stamped my passport and told me to have fun in London. Nice man.

But as I exited the customs hall, I realized that that conversation could have gone south very fast and how did he know I wasn't going to meet with clients at the conference or solicit UK business at the conference?

It brought up the absurdity of definition between commercial and non-commercial in the world of a creative or information worker. I can work wherever I have power and an internet connection.

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 03:43 PM:

There are three important things to remember about computers...


There is a reason why I keep copies of my wife's writing (and of her web site's code) on a hard-drive, on a camera's flashcard, and on on my key ring's.

#34 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 04:03 PM:

The TSA/Homeland Security/Customs/La Migra is round the bend so far they've met themselves on the other side; we all know that.

Excuse me, I'm now going to go back up my hard drive.

#35 ::: WimL ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 04:40 PM:

stamps@12: Interesting, I'd never run across that interpretation of upside-down stamps before. The only other association I have with intentionally upside-down stamps is as a form of protest when mailing your tax returns. (I think the reasoning there is that stamps often have flags on them, flying a flag upside-down is a standard distress signal, and flying the US flag upside-down has come to symbolize opposition to the Feds in semi-wingnut circles.)

Re DHS stupidity: this Schneier post makes me weep for, well, everything, especially the "unexplainable news" paragraph. On the upside, though, I guess I know how to recruit a mule next time I'm running contraband through the San Diego airport. And, to their credit, the fact that they're reporting lots of failures of the inspection process means that they actually are testing the inspection process, which is a good thing.

#36 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:20 PM:

Charlie @7: what the UK Customs and Excise folk were mostly looking for ten years ago was illegal porn and stolen industrial secrets, or so the story went. I don't think it's changed that much. I was paying attention ten years ago because that was when I started travelling to the US regularly. One Customs man was fascinated by my Zip drive, which weren't all that common at that point. I amused him by explaining that a Zip drive was smaller, lighter, much less valuable, and less likely to be stolen than a laptop...

#37 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:27 PM:

12, abi and 35, WimL

A cursory 5 minutes of googling hasn't yielded anything on upside down stamps being a sign of a "suspicious package." (Though I did turn up a list of silly laws that was circulating a year or two ago.) Do you have an interesting story you can point me to?

#38 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:35 PM:

Charlie @7 - at least, here in the UK, the rules concerning it are _reasonable_.

The relevant legislation is the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 sections 51-70, which allows that if somebody who is entitled to search you (e.g. a customs officer) finds that you have something (e.g. a computer disk) which he has reasonable grounds to believe may contain something he is authorized to seize (e.g. any and all kinds of illegal information, from child pornography up to state secrets), then he may seize it in its entirity. But, when doing so, he must provide written notice specifying what has been seized, why, and how to appeal against the decision.

Furthermore, the examination of the item must be carried out "as soon as reasonably practicable", and anything that can be reasonably separated from the seizable goods (eg, any other data on the disk) should be retrned as soon as reasonably practicable after that.

By and large, HMRC follow these rules. They're granted a lot of power and the judiciary are often eager to deal with them if they seem to be getting out of line.

#39 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:36 PM:

"In this instance, the TSA is clearly in the right."

No, it isn't clear to me that they are in the "right". What is "right" has no meaning any more. All that exists is power.

"it's pretty clear that Monica Emmerson -- that's the female passenger -- spills the liquid on the floor on purpose, as a deliberate act of defiance."

Yeah, because the rules are arbitrary and therefore leave room for officers to act like assholes. Monica exercised poor judgment but we Americans are not used to living in a police state so I think we can cut her some slack. She was angry because of the stupid TSA rules that would have made her leave the security area to empty the sippy cup. But the whole "liquids are bombs" is a farce based on bad intelligence back by paranoia to begin with. How are you "right" when you enforce absurd rules that don't really do what you claim they do?

Monica Emmerson committed an act of civil disobedience against TSA thugs. She should be applauded.

Schnier says:
"But there's a larger lesson here. Remember the Princeton professor who was put on the watch list for criticizing Bush? That was also untrue. Why is it that we all -- myself included -- believe these stories?"

Yeah well, I'll believe that when I get to examine the contents of Cheney's man sized safes. Cripes, these are the people who invented enemy lists and spying on your political opponents 40 years ago and have now raised it to a fine art.

Oh, and there is a simple explanation for why they seized Chris Walla's HD. Because they can. Fascists have never needed any other justification that that.

#40 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:39 PM:

Charlie @15: Especially this week, as one of the sillier predictions in "Halting State" just came true ...

What, you predicted that England would reach the Rugby World Cup final? 'Cause that's got to be about the most bizarre thing that's happened for ages. :)

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:45 PM:

midori @37:
I can't find anything online, but when I worked at a bank in the UK, the list of things to consider when assessing whether a package was suspicious* was postage, specifically:
- too much or too little
- stamps misplaced or upside down†

* along with source (known or unknown), addressing (handwriting and content both), weight (and distribution), smells, oil stains, etc, etc.

† many of the filters assumed either illiterate or very, very foreign senders, who couldn't calculate postage or address an envelope in the standard way. Considering that the main source of things that make you go BOOM at the time was Northern Ireland, this was...strange.

#43 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 06:07 PM:

In TSO vs "The Sippy Cup" it is also notable to mention that the mother involved also flashed her Secret Service badge, stated that the rules were "bull$shit", then poured the liquid contents of the sippy cup onto the ground when she was asked to dispose of the contents.
When approached by the TSO supervisor she started in with the "Do you know who I am..." spiel.
TSO was following procedure in this case (blindly as it may be) and as a Secret Service Officer she should have respected there positions and minimum wage earning peons who can't think for themselves.

#44 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 06:23 PM:

Did the hard drive have the words "Death Cab for Cutie" on it? They probably made a shrewd guess, like those guys on the TV shows do, that this was a devilish plot for some cutie to leave her East Side drum, take a ride in a cab, and have a terrible accident somewhere that would imperil our very way of life!

I leave the specific details of this fiendish plan to those who are best at such things -- the paranoids, bless 'em.

#45 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 06:28 PM:

I just got back from a slightly wacky business trip (7 countries, 19 days) which involved entering the Schengen Zone twice, the UK once and returning to the US.

My company advised me to back up all my data before leaving the US and to save any new work product to a server before going through any customs or immigration stations.

I had no problems, despite the fact that I was traveling with two laptops, a wireless router, a printer, a portable hard drive, two cameras, countless power supplies and many cables.

The biggest problem I encountered was when I got to Heathrow and was told about the one-bag rule. Which doesn't apply to women, since most of them and a handbag and another bag. At the guidance of the official at the head of the line, I wound up carrying the laptops and stuffing my camera bag into my backpack.

Oh, and the guy at Schiphol wanted to know why I was entering the Netherlands twice in two weeks and how long I'd be there.

Borders are always arbitrary. US customs grilled me about all the electronics. They were mostly concerned that I hadn't bought them overseas - which shows a shocking ignorance of exchange rates. A coffee in the UK cost $7!

As far as Walla's recordings go - if he's got digital tapes, he can just copy them onto another hard drive, and send it by FedEx. Total cost, some labor and a new drive. And he did get some publicity out of the incident.

#46 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 06:58 PM:

Serge @ 42

At least he wasn't upside down.

#47 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:15 PM:

Brenda von Ahsen @ 39

Monica Emmerson committed an act of civil disobedience against TSA thugs. She should be applauded.

I think so too. I also think she should not expect to avoid the inevitable consequences of that act. Many years ago, when I took part in political demonstrations, and helped to plan a few, it was drummed into me that civil disobedience is morally right, but that doesn't give you a get-out-of-jail-free card. We were advised that, if we were arrested, if the charges legitimately reflected what we'd done* we were to pay the fine, if they did not, we were to be orderly and not actively resist the police, so we could be bailed out as soon as possible.

There were two reasons for this: 1) civil disobedience is a crime, and it needs to remain so, or it will be used as an excuse for petty crime, and cease to be a useful political tactic, 2) if you are imprisoned by a police service that is out of control and free from oversight, you don't want to be held by them any longer than absolutely necessary, in case they should take it upon themselves to punish you outside the law. I've known people this was done to in the US, it's not an academic possibility.

Acts of principle are all very well, and useful politically, but they should be clearly motivated and well thought out, not petty acts of irritation and anger. There's nothing more futile than getting shot for giving a security guard the finger.

Given that the person involved was a Secret Service agent I have to question her professionalism as well as her judgement.

* frex, trespassing on the private property of an establishment which discriminated against black people, or disorderly conduct by blocking a street.

#48 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:17 PM:

You can’t take a black hole to court.

Well, you can, but getting a rebuttal on one of your motions so the judge can rule takes forever.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:30 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 48... The danger with taking a black hole to court is if you go beyond the Event Oration.

#50 ::: Tom S ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:33 PM:

Before we all leap to wildly to conclusions, how about we read CBP's side of the story.

Basically, boils down to that it was believed to be commercial material being brought across the border at the wrong point of entry and without the necessary documentation. Stupid rule? Perhaps, but not something a CBP agent at the border has the authority to overrule. Improperly applied? Arguably, but I can certainly see intelligent people arguing either way on that.

Plus, a hard drive not attached to a computer is the sort of thing that does tend to raise red flags for, among other things, child pornography (Why? Because it looks like a way of making it harder for an agent to inspect the contents.)

Also not mentioned in the original story is the fact that Customs tried to contact the owner repeatedly to return the drive. He claims not to have received those messages, but what would you bet that "DHS stole my music" makes a better story than "My drive got held up in customs"?

#51 ::: Karin ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:41 PM:

Serge @19: I am reminded of a similar scene at the San Diego Airport when my husband and I were coming back from Comic-Con with a Master Replicas Force Lightsaber in hand.

We wanted to try and bring it on the plane, to keep it from the tender ministrations of the baggage handlers; it was in a long skinny box, and it seemed reasonable that it would fit along the back of your typical overhead bin.

"Can we take this on the plane?"

"What is it?"

"It's a toy lightsaber."

"A ... saber?"

"A lightsaber. A toy."

"You can't take a weapon on the plane."

"But it's a ... oh, never mind, we'll just check it."

(It did arrive home safely, fortunately.)

#52 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 08:18 PM:

Karin @ 51... Heheheh... There's this writer I once knew who won her first Hugo in 1982. Apparently as she was getting ready to fly back after the worldcon, she realized there was no room in her luggage where she could safely put the award so she decided she'd try to carry it with her. Luckily, the inspector was a fan so he recognized what the thing was. Can you imagine someone trying to take a rocket on a plane today?

#53 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 11:15 PM:

computer backups:

I have had a harddrive crash on my PC almost once every year on average. After the third or fourth crash, I looked into an external drive. That one crapped out about 9 months later. I then bought a full RAID external ethernet drive. If I lose one drive out of the four, I plug an empty drive in, the system recognizes it as a blank, and recovers all the data back to full raid capability. Seems to be working pretty nicely.

I do think I need to get some offsite storage. I had the idea of using some of my unused website host space for offloading some files, and just set it up as non-public. Already paying for the space. Might as well use it.

#54 ::: jmmcdermott ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 11:54 PM:

re #50:

If the harddrive was confiscated because it was commercial, why didn't they confiscate the tapes?

If the harddrive is "scary" and might contain dangerous data, why didn't anyone even try to play the tapes carried by the same courier, much less confiscate them?

If the record execs that would have wanted the hard drive back around call #1 say they didn't get the call, and the DHS guys trying to cover their butts in a minor media storm say they called three times and left a message...

Can anyone document that message? Where is the proof of those messages? Where is the record?

Nothing in this story makes any sense from a security standpoint, or from a fairness standpoint.

The border guys exerted authority in a meaningless and arbitrary way. And, if we don't point this out and raise a stink about it, their lackadaisical middle managers certainly aren't going to do the same.

#55 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 01:02 AM:

Greg London # 53

Though I've had hard drives crash at work, I've never lost one at home in 15 years of owning computers that used them. Even when one computer caught fire and the logic board was a total loss, I pulled the internal drive out, stuck it in an external enclosure, and all the data was still good. And yet I know of people who routinely have disk crashes and computer failures. I don't think I'm doing anything different*, and I sure don't have a guardian angel, given everything that's happened to me.

But despite that, I still back up my data. I used to put copies of everything important on tapes and store them in my safe deposit box at the bank, but tapes and DVDs don't hold enough data anymore**, so I'm moving to offsite storage at Google, which gives me 4 GB free, and at .Mac, where I get 10 GB, but which I pay for for other reasons anyway.

* Well, I don't buy cheap equipment, but that's no guarantee of anything.
** RAW digital image files from my camera are 20 megabytes per frame, and I've got thousands of them, plus scans of the photos I've taken on film for more than 30 years.

#56 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:09 AM:

I just came to China, where I am working as a teacher for one or two semesters. I brought a small-sized desktop computer with me, knowing that it might not be difficult to acquire one in China but it would certainly be expensive. I spent about eight hours polling my friends and researching like mad: how do you get a desktop computer from the US to China, anyway?

Several people advised me to take out the hard drive and carry it with me. I'm very glad now that I didn't. Others advised me to ship the computer, which would have cost more than buying it in the first place. And checking it sounded dodgy -- is nine dollars per hour really enough pay for TSA employees not to get sticky fingers? Especially where items on the "no airline is responsible for these" list are concerned? And I've seen baggage conveyers with footlong drops. (My stereo survived one once, but the drawer sticks a bit since.)

What I did do was carry it on, in two soft briefcases with shoulder straps. Air Canada has a ten-kilograms/22-lbs-max-per-carry-on policy, which I just barely managed to meet with the LCD monitor, keyboard and some books in one bag and the PC by itself in the other.

I was worried Chinese customs would want me to pay duty on it (despite the fact that the computer's for personal use, and will leave the country with me) but since it's an old computer and cost under $200, it wouldn't even have needed to be declared if I were leaving it here, as far as I could tell.

I was also told by various people that the gov't might want to image the hard drive. Nope! They didn't even look at it. I sure built up my biceps lugging that thing around, though. And the driver told all the college admin staff about me huffing and puffing through the Shanghai with two arms full of computer and they practically fell down laughing!

#57 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:15 AM:

...the Shanghai Airport, even. Don't you hate it when you make your 'proofread' roll right after you hit the POST button?

Oh, and geez... the idea that they might be confiscating data because it's potentially commercial gives me chills. I carry all kinds of embryonic notes for possible future novels, most of which are not backed up (due to their embryonic state) and if the difference between the data for creating a commercial good and the *idea* for creating some data that might eventually *become* viable as a commercial good way down the line is not clear... Dear Gods. They never do understand this stuff with writing.

Most likely the complete lack of understanding would come down on the side of "oh, some scribbles, that's *nothing!*" but then, some people think that just because you're writing a book, it's Destined For The Bestseller List and Greatness!!!!11... and I'd hate to see this particular misunderstanding spread.

Shiver. Ugh.

#58 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 07:46 AM:

Larry Brennan @#45 A coffee in the UK cost $7!

Out of curiousity, where were you drinking coffee? (I make that £3.40, and I've paid more, but even in Central London would tend to avoid anywhere that costs more than £2.50)

For some reason, every time I caught a flight in Australia I got randomly chosen to be "sniffed" for bombs with one of those vacuum cleaner things. Every time it was quick, efficent and courteous. If we're going to have security theatre, that's the way I want it to be.

Have we all seen Charlie Stross's guide to long distance flying? He puts all his hard-earned long-haul wisdom on the internet for our benefit.

#59 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 08:33 AM:

Here's the odd-lloking bit:

"had hired a courier — who does international stuff all the time"

You would not expect such a person to go to the wrong border crossing for "commercial" goods.

You would expect such a person to get the paperwork right if something was seized.

You would expect a courier to know how to deal with security theatre.

Now, what really did happen?

#60 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 09:21 AM:

Speaking of commercial/non commercial limitations:
do you have to get a non-tourist visa for things like Worldcon if you are an author or publisher? Does going to a con, or any kind of conference overseas mean you need to apply for working visa?

Is the Peace Arch crossing the only one that is for "non-commercial" use only? Are courier services supposed to not use it? (Since if it really was a courier service, that would automatically make it commercial, right?)

Are all authors/bloggers/programmers/cosplayers automatically screwed because they 'might' do something commercial/carry something commercial with them?

abi, 41, thank you - that's kinda interesting.

#61 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 10:18 AM:

midori @60: IIRC, an academic due to speak at an IT convention earlier this year was turned back at the border because he didn't have a work permit. That's not a lot different from a writer visiting a con.

#62 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 11:51 AM:

Greg @53:

Not to worry you, but this flowed through my aggregator recently. He's now building a rather large Solaris/ZFS array for home storage...

#63 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 12:12 PM:

Larry @45: I'm fascinated to hear that women are exempt from the one bag rule at Heathrow, because they were most certainly not exempt last time I flew out of there. I had to rapidly repack various items in order to squeeze my handbag into my computer bag, even though the two bags together were well under the maximum size. I'm not sure what would have happened if I'd gone and bought something to strap them together, but as my passport says "place of birth: Belfast", I was disinclined to experiment.

#64 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 01:23 PM:

When they make you take off your shoes at an airport security checkpoint, is there usually a chair you can sit down on? My balance isn't good enough to do the crane-style kata required to remove my shoes standing up. The idea of having to sit on the floor in a nasty high-traffic area like that is a bit disquieting.

#65 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 01:44 PM:

Tom S @50: Plus, a hard drive not attached to a computer is the sort of thing that does tend to raise red flags for, among other things, child pornography (Why? Because it looks like a way of making it harder for an agent to inspect the contents.)

This is why I do not travel with an external hard drive.

... I travel with an iPod instead. Which even has some music on it.

#66 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Neil Wilcox @ 58 - £3.50 for a large Americano at a Caffe Nero in the Reading train station. I paid only €3.50 for a similar drink in central Munich. Here in Seattle, It's usually somewhere between $1.90 and $2.25. Thankfully, my company was feeding me at the time.

Julia Jones @ 63 - The woman on line ahead of me said that the handbag thing was hit or miss, so she always carries a computer bag large enough to stuff her purse into.

Charles Stross @ 65 - I thought about how people might interpret the drive, but I was carrying so much electronic gear and brochures for my product (which does centralized multi-PC backup to a single external drive) that I figured I could talk my way out of any questioning.

#67 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 02:10 PM:

Earl @ 64 - You can ask for special assistance. They'll either get you a chair, or take you aside and screen you separately. Usually they're pretty nice about that, too.

#68 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 02:29 PM:

Larry Brennan @ 45

Re women and handbags. Nope - as Julia Jones indicated, these days at Heathrow, if you turn up with one piece of hand luggage and a handbag, even if the hand luggage is well under maximum allowable size you have to stuff the handbag into the hand luggage. My usual solution (I don't have a handbag but do have a waist pack which contains my Psion handheld and other essentials, and goes everywhere with me) is to take a waterproof coat with large pockets, stuff my Psion in one pocket and the waist pack plus remaining contents into the other pocket until I'm through customs. Does make it difficult to decide where to carry my passport and ticket/boarding card, since normally they would be in the waist pack.

The really stupid thing is you can then go buy as much as you like in Duty Free....

Greg London @ 53 & Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @ 55

I had two catastrophic hard drive failures in six months a few years back. I now do daily, weekly and approximately monthly backups to different drives/media. I've just bought another external hard drive (my fourth) for pictures and copies of the working version of the (830+ MB) website I work on (an electronic encyclopaedia). I try to make sure that at any time all my files are, at minimum, on two hard drives or one hard drive and a CD-ROM or DVD. I aim to have a set of DVDs with most stuff on in a separate location, in case of fire or whatever wiping out my laptop and the backups. Am I sufficiently paranoid yet?

Charlie Stross @ 65
That sounds like a reason to actually buy an iPod or similar.

#69 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 02:49 PM:

Bruce Cohen (StM): What camera are you using? My RAW files are 4 Mb, the D2X uses 12 Mb.

20 Mb seems an awful lot. The digiback for the Hasselblad is 16.5 Mb, and that's for a 2 1/4.

#70 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 03:26 PM:

Jules@61: ...but not just any IT convention. IIRC, he was on The List?

#71 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Terry@69: My Konica-Minolta A-2 (8 mpix, non-DSLR) cranks out 11.5 meg RAW). FWIW...

#72 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 03:56 PM:

Customs not only "looks" at hard drives, they subject them to the law enforcement software that goes though and pulls up stuff that the user thought was safely deleted. One man was sentenced to several years in jail for having child porn on his laptop -- stuff that had been erased, but that Customs recovered. What this means is that you must never, ever let a laptop out of your sight-or-security anyplace that there is net access, lest someone read something that the cops don't like, or something that is illegal.

#73 ::: Tobias ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 03:56 PM:

dcb@68 You are doing test restores every few months?

About half an hour ago I just discovered I'd spent the last 6 months very carefully backing up the wrong files.

#74 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:15 PM:

Earl @ 64

Oddly, while some screening stations have no chairs on the intake side, almost all have them on the outlet, so you can sit down to put your shoes back on. I carry a pair of slip-on canvas shoes with me, and swap them on before going through security. The slip-ons aren't comfortable for walking long distances in an airport, but they go on and off like anything.

This made a huge difference to me for the first couple of years after back surgery, because I couldn't balance very well, and bending was difficult as well.

#75 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:22 PM:

Terry Karney @ 69

Sorry, you're right, my Nikon D70 generates NEF files slightly larger than 6 MB. I was confusing that with the scans of my 35mm slides and negatives which I've been doing at about 18 MB to get as much of the information off the film as I can.

#76 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:31 PM:

My keyring stores 8Gb of data, and a multitool disguised as a key.

My ipod stores data. (Not the nano I use for walking-about music, but the big hard-disk one that also backs up my iTunes music library in full.) My mobile phone stores data (on the 2Gb memory card inside it). My colo server stores data, as a remote backup. My elderly parents' computer has an admin account with my name on it, and you guessed it ...

Backups are Good. Even a six month old stale backup is better than nothing.

NB: Two weeks ago I had a really weird experience in Portland with the TSA staff at the airport. They were ... how to put it? They were friendly and helpful and exhibiting worrying signs of having a self-deprecating sense of humour and even cracking jokes with the passengers.

Now that's spooky!

#77 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:34 PM:

Tobias @ 73

Sympathies for the "wrong files" thing. Makes me shudder to think about it.

Re. "test restores" I do check they are still readable every so often - is that sufficient?

At least with lots of backups if I discover a file on the web has corrupted (has occurred, 'though not for some time), I can go back through the daily's/weekly's until I find an uncorrupted version.

If I've had a really producting morning and added loads of data, I'll backup at lunchtime, not wait until the evening.

#78 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Backups don't necessarily fix everything.

At work a couple of months back I printed one of our drawings and found that all I had was the vector (CAD) data; the raster file (scanned image) wasn't attached, or was otherwise missing. They went back two years and couldn't find that file. It's going to have to be redrawn. And we don't have the original any more - someone tossed the hardcopies of that drawing series. (I'm going to be in line to kill whoever it is. That's one of our Unforgiveable Acts. People have been fired for that sort of thing.)

#79 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:54 PM:

Seattle P-I report. A second copy was made, and made it through customs, so release is expected on schedule. By that account, US Customs says that the drive was cleared and the shipper notified, but that it was not picked up. I am now imagining messages left on the voicemail of some high-powered grunge-rock mogul who never returns calls from people he doesn't know. Is anyone else having the feeling of having fallen into a bit of Brazil that got left on the cutting room floor?

#80 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:57 PM:

Scorpio, #72--it may be wise to start using "secure erase" before crossing a border. I suppose it's wise to start encrypting one's portable drives (and carefully leaving copies of the keys in escrow); there's too much information on just about anyone's hard drive these days that criminals or corrupt officials can abuse.

#81 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:23 PM:

Backup software also sometimes has a mind of its own.

I was regularly backing up a project I'm working on, using Apple's backup software to .Mac, when I found I had a corrupt file (working in NeoOffice, on OS X 10.4). Couldn't open in NeoOffice, couldn't open in MSOffice (I always work in .rtf), could open in TextEdit - but TextEdit doesn't honor the markers for change tracking (or wasn't, anyways).

Okay, no problem. Restore from backup.

Same problem.

On all of the files.

Every one of them.

Check the hard drive in the safe - same thing. Even pulling the files up on my other laptop (a WinXP system) - same thing.

Six months of editing work I'm doing for a friend, basically gone.

I have no idea what the hell happened. I'm not inclined to try and troubleshoot it (especially since this was months ago). But two things happened on the day this occurred -

1 - I stopped using NeoOffice, and re-loaded my copy of MS Office 2k4 on the laptop. Wanting to support Open Source - and avoid Microsoft - is all well and good.. but I'm not taking chances with other people's data, and my work.

2 - I stopped using Apple Backup. Files get manually dragged and dropped to my external drives, and to .mac. Someday, I might get an automated backup tool of some sort - but it's low on the totem pole, because I have other things to spend on first.

#82 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:34 PM:

P J Evans @ 78
Sympathies. I know a bit how you feel, since I found a missing picture in something we produced years ago and I can't find the original picture anywhere.

Scott Taylor @81

Sympathies also. Makes me glad that I do my backups manually, just copying the relevant folders onto various hard drives, or making CD-ROMs or DVDs. Yes, it's slow, and takes more of my time than a backup program would do, but at least it's under my control.

What is a pain is that my web is now too big to fit on one CD-ROM and the DVD writing software can't cope with it (too many folder layers/files, I guess), so I can't just put it onto a DVD.

#83 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:44 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 76

Looks like the TSA personnel at PDX who aren't from around here originally have been infected. There's a strange brain disease that affects a lot of government and other bureaucrat types here; they get friendly and helpful, they try to get you the services you need, and they actually work at making your time with them pleasant. The Dept. of Motor Vehicles in this state is so non-hellish that their website gives tips on which local offices tend to be less busy. The last time I had to renew my driver's license, I waited less then 20 minutes, and was smiling for the photo because the clerk had said something pleasant and cheerful.

And the same seems to be true for just about any institution, bank, electricity and gas companies, even the phone company*.

* The wireless companies aren't local, so it only happens there to the extent they hire locally.

#84 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:55 PM:

I believe it.

Something similar happend to Thomas Dolby when he flew in to Logan for his summer tour. They opened his computers, pulled out the hard drives, and then crammed them back in, breaking all the pins on the controller cards.

Since the samples were on one HD in the machine and the backups were on the other HD in the same computer, the first few shows were a bit light, until he re-worked his samples...

#85 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:55 PM:

Charlie, #76, Bruce Cohen, #83: Portland and Oregon actually have fairly good government, despite all bitching. I've just moved to Seattle and the difference is astonishing (and so are the regressive taxes. Grrrr.) I've also had good experiences with the St. Louis TSA.

DCB, #82: I highly recommend small, portable hard drives for back up. Buy two, and keep them in two different places. For Macs, SilverKeeper is simple and free and seems to make exact copies.

Scott Taylor, #81: sympathies. Could your system have a virus?

#86 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:59 PM:

I backup my data by creating compressed, multi-volume archives with RAR. This solves any problems with deep directory structures and very large files, and reduces the space required to store the backups. I configure RAR to create recovery records and files, in case the archive becomes corrupted; I also lock the archive to prevent inadvertent changes, and test the archive after creation.

Because I am paranoid about data loss, I also create PAR2 archives with 20% redundancy or greater (from the .rar files only), in case the REV (RAR recovery) files are inadequate.

I keep the archives on a external drive and also burn them to DVD-R. I've found Taiyo Yuden to be an exceptionally reliable brand.

RAR is available for DOS, Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. There is a very old version (binary only) floating around the net that works with SCO System V.

I use QuickPAR to create the PAR2 files, but I think QuickPAR is Windows-only. There may be Linux or Mac equivalents.

#87 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 06:07 PM:

With a decent FTP or similar site and the right software, the music could have been sent to that site and then downloaded in the US in a matter of minutes with the right connection. That ability alone makes hard drive inspections just about useless as a deterrent.

#88 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 06:28 PM:

Randolph Fritz - #85
sympathies. Could your system have a virus?

Doubtful in the extreme - Mac OS X 10.4, with restricted privileges on the base user account (and Root is not enabled), backed up with a history of low spyware/malware (and no virii infections, ever), when I was using WinXP as my primary - despite wandering around some places of the Net that ought to mean otherwise.

So not only is the platform not (at all) known for virus problems, I'm not either. It was my first thought as well, nonetheless, just because it was so damn screwy - but no further signs of misbehavior since I stopped using Backup and NeoOffice, no processes running that aren't supposed to be, and no other signs of any kind of infection.

Shrug. It was a fluke occurrence. Now that I see that Silverlining is free, I may grab a copy and start using it - I like automated backups (although I don't always trust them), because I can set them off whenever I want.

(My backup scheme consists currently of a pair of external 250gb drives, 1 Firewire, one USB2.0, which have Other Duties when not grabbing a backup - these will be a Largish RAID once I have spare cash for a FW400 raid cage and a quad of 500gb drives or so), an external 40gb USB1.0 drive that sits in the fire safe when not used for backup, a third 250gb EIDE drive (no drive case currently - I pull the drive out of the USB case when I want to run a backup to that one - infrequently), a 4gb USB2.0 key drive, and .mac (10gb). I additionally send encrypted DVDs of the Most Important Files to my parents occasionally, and drop duplicates off with a friend - unfortunately, those disks get made on a semi-yearly basis, and the files corrupted weren't on either set.

#89 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 06:42 PM:

Randolph Fritz @85

Well, I'm using 3.5 inch External hard drives for my main backups at present, due to the cost considerations for the nice little 2.5 inch drives (I have one of those as well, but I use it to carry around files I don't have room for on the laptop's main hard disk but just might need to access when travelling, and for backups when away from my desk). Yes, I should keep a spare backup hard drive/set of DVDs elsewhere - and I do, but (like Scott Tayor @88, and probably most other people) I don't make those often enough...

When I was writing up my PhD thesis I kept spare floppy discs of my work (oh for the days when everything fitted on a few floopy discs!) at my parents' house - I figured anything that took out both London and Manchester (UK), I wasn't going to be worrying too much about my thesis.

#90 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 06:53 PM:

I find the whole US homeland security thing weird. Like a bad parody of 1984. I recently went back to the States for the first time in fifteen years and they have this wierd homeland security video thing playing on a loop as you go through immigration.

I had to check it wasn't a joke. All very sad given how nice people are once you get through to the other side.

If you get through.

#91 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 06:53 PM:

I find the whole US homeland security thing weird. Like a bad parody of 1984. I recently went back to the States for the first time in fifteen years and they have this wierd homeland security video thing playing on a loop as you go through immigration.

I had to check it wasn't a joke. All very sad given how nice people are once you get through to the other side.

If you get through.

#92 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 10:05 PM:

Randolph Fritz #80: I suppose it's wise to start encrypting one's portable drives

The problem with that plan is that possession of encrypted data is probable cause.

#93 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 10:34 PM:

eric@62, yeah, I've heard of that happening. A friend of mine (another engineer) was looking into getting an infrant and heard that one possible problem is that all four drives are exactly the same age, which means they're statistically likely to crash at the same time, if age is a determining factor.

I was thinking of either swapping out one of the drives every 6 months or so (the box is supposed to be smart enough that you just plug in the blank drive and it knows to recover your data to that drive) or just keep a spare blank drive handy, then if you can recover immediately, even if a second drive craps out, you're back to raid5 with a single bad disc.

I was considering getting a second RAID system, but I should probably figure out a way to backup to some offsite hosting anyway. Even with raid5, I'm screwed if the house catches on fire, someone breaks in and steals the pretty boxes with flashing lights, and similar catastrophes.

I pay good money to host a few websites. Even the dirt cheap one has a huge gob of storage data, and I'm no where near that limit.

#94 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:38 AM:

Charles Stross @76 - Portland is nice. If you hadn't noticed. Undoubtedly the nicest place in the US.

I was there last weekend with my girlfriend, and we made the inevitable pilgrimage to Powell's. Where, after swearing that I wouldn't purchase any new hardcovers, I spotted an autographed copy of Halting State. I haven't read it yet, as I have three half-finished books lurking around my apartment, but it's next in the queue.

So, Portland is nice. It's bookstores are nice. The TSA goons are nice. And the coffee and beer are nice too. And the music scene is nice - we saw a very low-key (and nice) acoustic performance by Bob Mould on a Sunday night at the very nice Doug Fir Lounge.

I understand you were in Seattle, too. If I were more attentive to such things, I would have probably trekked out to see you. Seattle is nice, but not as nice as Portland.

Do come back soon.

#95 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:04 AM:

Charlie, you missed out J.G. Ballard from the script credits for the movie we're all taking part in...I can't help thinking it's significant that Stanley Kubrick died when he did.

Anyway, I can't believe no-one's mentioned this, but encrypt stuff. I've just done the leap to Linux, and the next step is to move all the scary blog stuff (international gun running, missile guidance, RepRaps) and scary work stuff (big fibre networks, satellites, and shit) into the linux partition and encrypt it.

Regarding backups, my laptop has a silly system courtesy of Samsung that backs up C:/ to D:/....except that C:/ and D:/ are two partitions on the SAME DRIVE! So obviously I burn the result to DVDs. Dunno if they'll work; the total is about 16GB or 4 4GB disks, and it's far from clear if I can restore from multiple disks.

So I back up the Windows install on one disk, and burn all my data to another. And the Linux system is still there on the original ISO I burned.

#96 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 09:27 AM:

abi #41:

I can see too much postage, as the last thing you'd want, assuming you were the mail-bombing type, is to have the letter sent off to the dead letter office because it doesn't have sufficient postage. (I'm assuming most bombers don't put their real return address on it, though I suppose having it *returned* would be even worse....)

#97 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 09:43 AM:

Dave #87:

This was my thought, too. You can just transmit the information over the net, so there's little reason to hand-carry it.

For what it's worth, I've crossed borders perhaps 40 times in the last several years, and I've never had the data on my computer or my USB drives searched. Maybe I just don't fit the profile for computer criminals or child pornographers, though I'm not sure what that last profile would be. I used to have client data (mostly encrypted) on my hard drive, but now I don't bother, as I'm mainly doing research--if you steal the stuff on my laptop, you'll see what I'm working on for next year's research.

#98 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 10:06 AM:

93, Greg London,
I have read elsewhere - not that I can find the link - that the practical difficulty with raid setups is that when one drive fails, rebuilding the array itself can prompt another drive to fail. (Due to a lot more physical stress on the remaining drives.) I cycle a new drive into my array (raid 1+0) every six months or so, when the price per Gig drops by half. The old one gets put into an external case (cheap via newegg!), and the average age of my array isn't terribly old.

Anyway, uh, why aren't you taking your backups offsite?* Taking a portable harddrive to your office - or a friend's house once a month or so is some of the most effective data protection money can buy :)

And now for a series of harddrive failure comics:

in Penny-arcade: with vulgarity, sans vulgarity
in Applegeeks: assorted solutions.

Everyone: Do me a favor, and run your backup process right now. It would make me feel better.

*I ask in a spirit of gentle teasing!

#99 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 12:53 PM:

A.J. @ 24 & 27:

Please don't apologize. It was exciting to see myself saying something intelligent for a change.

I'm surprised that I've gotten away with posting as just A.J. for this long.

#100 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Maybe they thought that Death Cab referred to car bombs.

#101 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 01:48 PM:

And Cutie was?

#102 ::: eliddell ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 01:53 PM:

mcz@86: Last time I checked, par2cmdline was the only, or at least most used, PAR2 tool for Linux; I believe versions also exist for Mac OSX.

#103 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:17 PM:

midori @98
Everyone: Do me a favor, and run your backup process right now. It would make me feel better.

mozy triggered, just for you.

#104 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:28 PM:

Alex: I'd suggest not taking your encrypted data in/out of the UK. The conversation is likely to go like this:

HMRC expert: There's a large chunk of this disk that our software doesn't understand. What is it?
You: It's my encrypted partition.
HMRC expert: OK. Decrypt it.
You: No.
HMRC expert: Decrypt it or spend a year in jail.[1]
You: ... Oh. OK.
HMRC expert: Hmmm. Why do you have all this encrypted information about military things?
You: Research. For my web site.
HMRC expert: A likely story. Why would you encrypt stuff and then put it on your web site? Please step in here while we perform a background check.

When it comes to getting through customs, openness is almost certainly the best policy.[2]

[1]: While it was legislated over 6 years ago, the encrypted data provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2001 came into force only a month or so ago. I suspect there are people itching to use their new powers.
[2]: I'm not going to suggest the use of a plausible-deniability filesystem. The fact that the software *I* use for disk encryption supports such a system is entirely coincidental.

#105 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:43 PM:

Dave Kuzminski @87:


However, what makes you think hard drive inspections at the border are aimed at deterring the transport of illicit data? They are, as you point out, totally useless at doing so.

They are, however, a cheap and easy way of catching people with child porn on their systems that most people won't complain about being an unwarranted intrusion. You can't pull a random person off the street and inspect their laptop's hard disk. You can at a customs checkpoint, though.

OTOH, I don't think an FTP upload is really a good method of transporting this particular data. My estimate is that they're going to be looking at something like 2-5 GB of it (about 20-30 tracks averaging 4-6 minutes recorded at 96kHz with 24 bits per sample, uncompressed, plus a few different mixes of the finished track). Probably much faster & cheaper just to drive the disk to where it's going than to try to transfer it over the Internet.

#106 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:46 PM:

103, abi,
Thank you, I feel much better now! (You are very sweet.)

#107 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:50 PM:

Dave @ 101:
Cutie must obviously refer to kids. Car bombs for kids -- oh, the horror, the depraved horror!!!!!
Betcha they're still trying to play those tracks backwards to hear the secret instructions.

#108 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:53 PM:

Taking a portable harddrive to your office - or a friend's house once a month or so is some of the most effective data protection money can buy

i have a big external HD i use for full monthly backups. i leave it at work except for the one weekend a month when it comes home to get the new backup set.

last week, though, my job moved offices, and i was away on vacation. i didn't want to bring the HD to the beach with me, didn't want to leave it at home, and didn't want to pack it and risk the movers smashing it. quite a dilemma for a data-paranoid like me!

in the end, i did pack it (stuffed in the middle of a big wad of plastic grocery bags) and let the movers take it to the new space.

#109 ::: mcz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 04:15 PM:

eliddell @#102:

I Googled for a Mac-based PAR2 client out of curiosity and came up with MacPAR deLuxe, which is apparently a GUI-based utility for Mac OSX with support for both PAR and PAR2. It also unpacks RAR files. I'm not a Mac user and can't offer an opinion on how well it works.

I see also that a graphical front-end is available for the par2 Unix/Linux utility: Pypar2. Again, I'm not familiar with these implementations.

#110 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 04:22 PM:

Jules #105: Yes! I think customs is what governments wish they could make us all go through to cross the street. But hey, what do I know? I'm so old, I remember when the guys who demanded "papers, please" of citizens, wiretapped and bugged anyone they didn't like, and tortured people to get information were the *bad guys*.

#111 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 04:35 PM:

re 104: It's going to be a bit of a problem for them if one does not carry the means of decription with one. Or for that matter, the key.

#112 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 05:10 PM:

Regarding data encryption - the FDIC (US banking regulators) are really pushing for all bank laptops to be encrypted. They're apparently tired of reading the "data of thousands of customers lost" articles in the paper when a laptop gets stolen.

That could make for an interesting border crossing.

#114 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 05:36 PM:

dan: Really? Because that strikes me as odd. The correlation I've seen, pretty much across the board is that .RAW fomats pretty much map to image size (one piece of data per pixel, no mosiac/demosaic coding, etc.). Jpgs are smaller, .tifs are larger, and .RAW is the same (mostly; jpgs can be as large, RAW can be smaller) as the rated Mp on the camera (and don't get me started on how Megapixels is an inane way to "rate" the quality of a given camera).

Bruce: That's more like it. My scans of slides tend to be in the 20-40 Mb range. Prints can get huge. Hell, my conversions from RAW to .tif for printing can get me files in the 100 plus Mb range.

#115 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 05:36 PM:

wait wait wait.

Death Cab For Cutie is emo?

I thought "emo" was more like, I dunno, Wolfsheim. Or any number of hard rock songs of late that are basically psychotherapy sessions with electric guitars.

Help! I am in danger of misusing current musical terminology! Enlightenment Nao Plz!

#116 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:11 PM:

Nicole — you and me both. I think I must have "emo" and "shoegazer" mixed up. Seeing Hüsker Dü described as "emo" was a definite "huh?" moment.

#117 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:12 PM:

Oh, no, no, Nicole. That Wolfsheim video you linked to? So not emo. If I had just heard it without attribution, I would have guessed it was VNV Nation, possibly, who are also Not Emo.

Emo -- Death Cab for Cutie, Dashboard Confessional... well. There's this problem in that it's very easy to point to an "emo kid" by way of fashion choices and music tastes (have you seen but no band, when asked, will admit to being an emo band.

If they're on the Fueled by Ramen or Drive-Thru Records labels, though, the odds are pretty good.

#118 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:13 PM:

re 113: I was actually thinking of "in your head" as a form of "with you". I mean, this is basic encryption stuff: you keep the key as far away from the message as possible until you absolutely have to. We all know that crooks are stupid, but anyone intelligent plan for moving sensitive data on a courier is going to involve ensuring that the courier has no way of reading the message (or giving away enough information for someone else to do it).

#119 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:17 PM:

I think of "emo" the music being anything vaguely punk-related with a whiny singing voice and very very teenage lyrics--Panic! At the Disco, say--and "emo" the people as listening not just to that but also to Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes and similar in large quantities.

#120 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:34 PM:

Oh! No! I can explain "shoegazer." Shoegazer goes back to bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, and the hallmarks are garage/psychedelic guitars, wall-of-sound echo, and soft wispy vocals.

Just because some "emo" singers don't look at the audience doesn't really make them "shoegazer" in terms of genre.

#121 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:48 PM:

ethan: yes, Panic! At The Disco certainly fits. For a while, I was defining the markers for an "emo" band as needing to include weird and illogical punctuation in the band name, overwrought lyrics, and very tight girl jeans on boys.

Mind you, I think The Academy Is... is pretty good, for all that.

Can't say the same for Drop Dead, Gorgeous though.

#122 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 07:16 PM:

Rikibeth, bizarre punctuation, sadly, has expanded beyond emo and has afflicted some good bands...The Go! Team, Jew On Jew. Action!, and Gravy Train!!! come to mind (and, of course, Adult. was doing it before any of them). As for liking bands despite signs of emoness, when My Chemical Romance* released The Black Parade, I listened to it pretty much non-stop for about a month. I still listen to it pretty frequently. The Liza Minelli cameo alone makes it worth it.

And yeah, while emo people probably love shoegazer, the one is not the other.

*Who I only just realized recently probably named themselves after My Bloody Valentine.

#123 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 07:35 PM:

ethan: no, My Chemical Romance didn't name themselves after My Bloody Valentine. They took the title from a book about hallucinogens. If I asked my roommate, I'd probably get the title and author. I live with an absolutely diehard fan.

The Black Parade is this decade's The Wall, as far as I'm concerned. I see no shame at all in admitting how much I love it. I did that nonstop for a month thing too -- I even had the lyrics memorized from the streaming version they had up before the release date. I hope you got a chance to see the tour -- that was rock and roll history, right there in front of my eyes.

But, yeah, about the punctuation. Against Me! isn't emo by any stretch of the imagination, and they've had that exclamation point for a while.

#124 ::: Ms. Jen ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 10:28 PM:

My definitive moment of "getting" emo is when some friends invited me to sit on stage next to the guitar amps during an Alkaline Trio show and I watched the two front rows of teenage boys cry while the band played. Cry. Boys/young men aged 14-18 were crying.

I was stunned.

#125 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 11:07 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 76, Bruce Cohen @ 83: I just have to back up that report -- they've always been nice to me as well, and to everyone I've seen go through. Even this last time, when I had my desktop computer with me and had about five bins lined up down the conveyer belt by the time I was done following required procedures, the staff seemed a little exasperated but didn't take it out on me at all. I was quite impressed.

I think it helps vastly that about half the people in Portland are tattooed, so the TSA (and other security/authority orgs) simply can't act as culture police and still function, so their hiring and enforcement locally reflects that.

Larry Brennan @ 94: I'm seeing more and more Portland converts. It's both pleasing and alarming (the latter only because rents will inevitably go up, and already have quite a bit since 2002.) Seeing a four-page ad spread for Portland culture and tourism in the New Yorker last year was quite a kick, and the trend has continued.

Well, what can I say? The city really *is* that cool.

#126 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 12:22 AM:


Raws are the raw sensor data, but they're certainly compressed in most modern implementations, just that it's a lossless compression like gzip. I notice it on my original Digital Rebel, the iso1600 images are bigger due to the incompressability of noise.

#127 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 01:49 AM:

A.J. Luxton @ 125

Have they officially made the motto of Portland "Keep Portland Weird" yet? They better do it quick, I'm running out of room for bumper stickers.

#128 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 04:13 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 127 - I thought the official sticker was the white Oregon profile with a green heart in it. Everyone seemed to have one, except for Subarus, which all seemed to have two.

AJ Luxton @ 125 - Yeah, Portland rocks, and my girlfriend and I had a great weekend. We're already considering another weekend visit.

#129 ::: rvman ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 01:52 PM:

For all we know, the Homeland security guy saw an envelope labeled "Death Cab for Cutie", though it was plans for a terrorist attack by an especially attractive terrorist, involving short term leasing of chauffered vehicles, and seized it on that possibility.

#130 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 02:13 PM:

I have apparently just been spammed by the IEEE, promoting a conference on technology for Homeland Security.

It even has a domain-name:

No way am I clicking on that without further checks.

But what's odd is the email address that was used. It isn't one I've used to submit to RISKS Digest, for instance. I did use it on a few computer graphics sites, but I can't think of any time I've used it in a situation where where anyone might think I could submit a paper to a security conference.

Maybe reading Strategy and Tactics or playing Traveller might pay off after all?

Or is it another instance of "black" spam, sent out to besmirch the name of the supposed source?

#131 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 03:28 PM:

Bruce C #127:

Austin thought of it first; anyone else is just an imitator. There are "Keep Austin Weird" stickers on about every tenth car, seems like. More near the university.

#132 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 04:13 PM:

Ms. Jen -- really? I was on the barricade for Alkaline Trio last year, and I didn't see any boys crying! I am impressed.

Then again, they've taken a slightly different direction with their more recent stuff. As their lead singer Matt Skiba said, "There are only so many songs you can write about getting drunk and breaking up with your girlfriend."

#133 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 04:21 PM:

Thank you all! I am now even more confused. But that's OK. I think it's the nature of the beast.

(See, some Wolfsheim and VNV-N pass the "overwrought lyrics" test for me, while DCfC doesn't. And I've never seen either live, so I can't balance that impression by the visual cues--except by looking at that video, in which: dude that make-up! I suppose one person's "overwrought lyrics" is another person's quietly introspective poetry. Tomayto tomahto?)

#134 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 06:10 PM:

Nicole, I think I've got where your confusion is. Wolfsheim and VNV Nation are electronica, and, as such, are considered a different genre from emo, no matter how overwrought their lyrics can be.

Also, because they're electronic music, they get played at dance clubs, and their listeners are often (gasp!) Goths. (looks guiltily at Pennangalan boots and black velvet purse I've left in the living room.)

"Emo" as a genre relies heavily on the guitar, whether acoustic or electric. There are a few bands considered part of the emo scene who use a lot of synthesizer (Hellogoodbye springs to mind), but it's usually a very retro, jokey-sounding synthesizer (think the whistle-y organ quality of early Cars stuff) instead of the clean, unapologetically computer-made sound of VNV or Wolfsheim.

Also, "emo" songs tend to be about, oh, "getting drunk and breaking up with your girlfriend." VNV Nation, at least, has far more grandiose themes.

Does this make it any clearer?

#135 ::: Mags ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:45 PM:

Flying out of London Gatwick in late 2005, I had my carryon bag searched. The security officer regarded my 512mb USB flash drive with great suspicion. I had to explain what it was. Once I explained it, she was not much less suspicious but let me through.

#136 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 02:47 AM:

Rikibeth:"There are only so many songs you can write about getting drunk and breaking up with your girlfriend."

This hasn't stopped "country".

#137 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 05:47 AM:

Terry: true! It hasn't stopped MOST genres, come to think of it. Matt Skiba was just talking about his own songwriting.

#138 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 06:42 AM:

Bruce Cohen #127, Joann #131: Austin thought of it first; anyone else is just an imitator. There are "Keep Austin Weird" stickers on about every tenth car, seems like.

More importantly, the company that owns the trademark is apparently litigious and would likely rip the jugular out of any "Keep Portland Weird" effort unless they got licensing fees; the people who first popularized the slogan, however, walk the walk.

#139 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2007, 02:06 PM:

Earl #138:

re second link: Whoo-oooh!

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