Computers and Internet, Security

Here’s How It Will Go Down

5 years from now…

…in the middle of a hostage crisis…

…during heated trade negotiations…

…at the brink of global war…

…there will be a critical member of the US delegation – we’ll call him Chuck. Chuck is an ex-Marine and will have been a civil servant for nearly 20 years, working his way up thru various positions as a trusted and capable man.

Chuck will get a phone call. It will list as being from someone he hasn’t talked to for over 20 years, a very old friend. He will answer the phone, and on the other line will be a man’s voice, speaking perfect, unaccented English.

“Chuck, we know about the thing you used to do. We know that you told your wife, and that you went to couples therapy about it. But we also know that you never told your children, you never told your parents, and you never told the foursome – all of you Marines – you play golf with every Tuesday. If you don’t want them to know then we need you to do something for us. It’s not a bad thing – we know you’re considering it as an option in your internal discussions. All we want is for you to choose a specific, entirely reasonable option. We will never call you again to ask you to do anything, and no matter what you will never hear from us directly again. We just need this one thing. We just need you to…”

…order your SEAL team to kill the terrorists instead of question them.

…change the wording of section 7.c. from “shall” to “may“.

…tell the President you think the Russians should be given the territory they’ve gained so far.

There are over 4 million Chuck’s working for the US now. They are great employees, fine citizens and honorable men and women. Many of them have secrets that were previously only known by trusted employees of the US government.

Somebody else somewhere else now knows ALL of these secrets. They now have the power to do this thousands or even millions of times.

OPM Hack


Sende in the Dronnes


On March 4th 2014 Janes Defence reports that the UK government has Released To Service (RTS) the new UK-built Watchkeeper Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). The Watchkeeper was intended for service in Afghanistan as early as 2007 however the RTS process has brought on extensive delays – brought on in no small part because of concerns over civilian safety.

The RTS greenlighting of the Watchkeeper means that it is now considered safe enough to be used over civilian populations in the UK.

“These delays largely result from the Watchkeeper being the first UAS to go through the RTS process, which follows the MoD’s rigorous safety and airworthiness reviews to ensure the system can be safely operated over the UK and beyond, with certification to the same safety standard as manned aircraft.” 

The Watchkeeper is a UK-built drone derived from the Israeli-made Elbit System Hermes 450 which the UK has used in deployment in Afghanistan since 2007. The Hermes and the Watchkeeper share some components including the air-frame, two sensor mounts and two mounts for fuel tanks under the wings.

The two sensor arrays on the Watchkeeper are a synthetic aperture radar/ground-moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) radar and a rear-mounted electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret. SAR/GMTI is an active radar system (meaning it transmits radio waves and reads the reflection) that can be used to find and identify stationary and moving targets. This is a pic of what things on the ground might look like to a Watchkeeper operator via that radar:


The turret is a passive system that uses infrared heat signatures to differentiate between objects and is particularly optimized for finding warm things like people. This is what things look like through a similar FLIR system:


As currently specified the Watchkeeper can track targets for continued surveillance and can also “paint” them with a laser designator for targeting by weapons launched from somewhere else. The Israelis are rumored to have outfitted the Hermes 450 with Hellfire missiles (one slung under each wing from the fuel-tank mounts) although they have never publicly admitted to this configuration. Presumably the Watchkeeper could be configured the same way however there’s no indication that the UK plans to do this.

The British Army has logged over 86,000 flight hours with the Hermes 450 and has confirmed that they have crashed 8, which is likely one of the reasons that the UK decided to build their own derivation. Two documented Hermes 450 crashes in Afghanistan – one at the Bastion air base and one near Sangin (crash-landing in a mine-field no less) and another crash in Israel were all due to engine failure. The Watchkeeper has a new fuel-injected rotax engine built in France which should make it more reliable, especially at higher altitudes.

One crash per 10K hours of flight time is abysmally bad. While the British public doesn’t seem to mind terribly about surveillance in the UK nor about drone strikes elsewhere, they would likely be more upset if drones were raining out of the sky at a rate of 1 per 10K hours of flight time.


The extensive analysis of the crash at Bastion also finds a number of supporting problem areas involving training and logistics and notes that “most of the identified factors were driven by the fact that the H450 aviation system was an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR)”. When the Hermes 450 was initially chosen the UK felt that they desperately needed a sustained-duration surveillance drone in Afghanistan so they deployed the 450 under a UOR. This means the minimum amount of testing needed for the military to feel confident that it the equipment will work (at least as well as the Israelis no doubt promised it would) but not any more, and a lack of experience in the army (as opposed to the RAF) with UORs for aircraft is noted in the report as an issue.

Another interesting observation from the MAA report is that the operators issued a command to the 450 so that it would go into a specific mode and got an unexpected (to them) response, causing the the UAS to perform a “non authorized manoeuvre at low altitude”. This meant that when the engine finally died of overheating the 450 went into a fail-safe circular glide pattern roughly where the failure happened. It didn’t try to land (which likely would have been possible) it just glided into the tarmac.

Its unclear if the UK government plans to use the Watchkeeper domestically for surveillance or if they will be flown over the UK for training only. It is clear that they felt that they needed to spend over half a decade testing and tweaking the design so that it would be suitably safe for sustained flight over the territorial UK. This could simply be a responsible government doing the necessaries to ensure that a critical piece of war materiel is safe to operate incidentally over civilians. That’s obviously true. It could additionally presage future Watchkeepers – possibly even a future armed variant – patrolling domestic UK skies but only time will tell on that account.

BitLocker, Computers and Internet, Encryption, Microsoft, Security, Trust

commoditizing the shaft

Lorenzo Franceschi Bicchierai wrote about BitLocker and our conversations with government agencies. Excerpt below:

“Fuck, you guys are giving us the shaft,” the agent said, according to Biddle and the Microsoft engineer, who were both present at the meeting. (Though Biddle insisted he didn’t remember which agency he spoke with, he said he remembered this particular exchange.)

Biddle wasn’t intimidated. “No, we’re not giving you the shaft, we’re merely commoditizing the shaft,” he responded.

Biddle, a believer in what he refers to as “neutral technology,” never agreed to put a backdoor in BitLocker. And other Microsoft engineers, when rumors spread that there was one, later denied that was ever a possibility.

Full article:
Did the FBI Lean On Microsoft for Access to Its Encryption Software?

Android, apps, Computers and Internet, Encryption, Security, Trust

Code Identity and the Android Master Key Bug

Android invasion, Sydney, Australia

Android invasion, Sydney, Australia (Photo credit: Pranav Bhatt)

I was part of the effort to drag MSFT security into the modern era. It was extremely painful. I assumed (perhaps stupidly) that our highly-public lessons would mean other late-comers to the security party would look at our wrecked living room, burned furniture and bad tattoos and then not make the same mistakes we made in our irresponsible youth.

But perhaps no. This Android bug could prove to be extraordinarily bad.

Blowing hash and signing functions so that the underlying code can be changed without the hash and sigs changing is horrifyingly atrocious. This is the code equivalent of impersonating a person with a mask so good nobody, not even the real person themselves, can tell the difference.

The entire value of a chain of trust is that you are limiting the surface area of vulnerability to the code-signing and hashing itself. This bug, if it’s as described, destroys the chain. All bets are off. You’d be better off without the assertions and chain at all: Treat everyone as adversarial and move all critical operations off-device and into something you know you can trust.

I am not saying this automagically makes Android phones infinitely vulnerable to horrible deeds. It doesn’t. As of July 4th 2013 there are no known exploits in the wild that make use of this attack. To really hit something out of the park based on this bug the bad guys are going to need a way to get an offending app onto a phone. This means getting it through a heretofore unknown exploit in Google Play or onto the phone via side-loading or another distribution method.

So we’re all okay, right? Well, no. Not necessarily. Perimeter security – which is what Google uses to keep bad apps off of phones in the first place – is notoriously bad. It’s so bad that Google (and Apple, MSFT, and everybody else) use techniques like sandboxing (perimeters within perimeters), privilege, code signing and code validation to make up for its deficiencies.

Malicious software has an annoying habit of finding it’s way onto devices with considerably stronger perimeters than Android so validation of code that is on the system is critically important.

Unfortunately it’s not just the exploit that is distressing. One of the the things we eventually got good at at MSFT back when we routinely had our pants around our ankles on security was in our responses. There’s no way you can survive forever in an environment of constant adversarial attack if you don’t get much better at defending yourself technically AND much better at working with the public about what you’re doing.

In this blog post, Google advocate that companies “should fix critical vulnerabilities within 60 days”  and that “after 7 days have elapsed without a patch or advisory, we will support researchers making details available so that users can take steps to protect themselves”.

Google espouses 60 days to fix exploitable bugs and going public one week after private notification. According to Bluebox they told Google about this via bug  8219321 in February 2013. That’s a little bit more than 60 days ago. Seeing as it’s now July, I think (and I’m not very good at math, so bear with me here) that’s at least twice as many. It’s especially more than 7 days. I’m not sure how Google are following their own disclosure policy.

Let me speak from personal experience (again) that you need to be really good at dealing with the public on security stuff. If you are going to make clear and solid statements that have numbers in them (eg 60, 7) then you really REALLY need to make sure you are always on the right side of those numbers.

I am also not saying this automagically makes Google evil. As I said at the beginning of this post – I’ve been there when it was bad. Sometimes you are trying your hardest to be good but you’re tripping and falling down. People see you fucking up and assume it means you are evil when really you’re just trying to stay alive long enough to fix your broken shit and learn so you can be better.

I don’t wish anyone at Google any ill will over this. I’ve been there, it’s no fun.

emergency preparedness, Security

Bleach Water Purification

CostCo sells two-packs of one-gallon bottles of un-scented, no-dye bleach. One gallon of bleach will purify an absolute crap-ton (a scientific term) of poop-infused water, so it’s handy to have around the house, flat, apartment, boat, cabin, or Undisclosed Location.

There are a few ratios of bleach-to-water on the interwebz. The WA state USA Department of Health guys seem to be on the “more is better” end of the scale, which I think is good for water that may have poop floating around in it. I’m generally not a fussy drinker, but I do draw the line somewhere.

Their page is here. From this page, we have this excellent chart:

Treating Water with a 5-6 Percent Liquid Chlorine Bleach Solution
Volume of Water to be Treated Treating Clear/Cloudy Water:
Bleach Solution to Add
Treating Cloudy, Very Cold, or Surface Water: Bleach Solution to Add
1 quart/1 liter 3 drops 5 drops
1/2 gallon/2 quarts/2 liters 5 drops 10 drops
1 gallon 1/8 teaspoon 1/4 teaspoon
5 gallons  1/2 teaspoon 1 teaspoon
10 gallons 1 teaspoon 2 teaspoons

I already had a bleach bottle cached away for poopy water so I printed
off this table (on label paper no less!), put it on the bottle, and then put some clear packing tape over that for good measure. Because you never know when zombie blood might get on your bleach bottle and ruin your print-out…

Some people might not like the flavor of bleach in their water. The apocalypse might not cure that. For these folks, a bunch of activated charcoal in a 5-gallon bucket with some holes cut in the bottom should sort that out. JUST NEVER PUT UN-BLEACHED POOPY WATER DIRECTLY INTO THE CHARCOAL, for hopefully obvious reasons.

Speaking of which – if you can actually SEE poop in the water, some filtering before the bleach is likely in order – even just an old tee-shirt will do for that.

Guns, Personal, Security

So. You want to get your first pistol?

The Question

This is from an old friend:

“I’m currently trying to figure out what 9mm pistol to get. I’ve shot several (Glock 19, xD-9, a compact Sig) but haven’t found any I’ve fallen in love with yet. So far, the xd-9 is my favorite. I was wondering if you had any suggestions.

I’d like to have the option of carrying it, so smaller is somewhat preferable. I guess I’m not entirely sure what makes for a good carry pistol, though, now that I think about it.

Anyway, if you’ve got any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.”

The Answer

I could just say “either, although I prefer the XD” but then, well, that wouldn’t really hew to my byline, now would it?

I used to have all sorts of snobby things to say about both 9mm (“I only shoot pistols with calibers starting in the number 4”) and polymer (“combat tupperware”). I’m still clearly a snob about nearly everything I do, but I’m somewhat more refined in my snobbishness. So here goes!

Get Your CPL

First off, get your CPL.

Even if you didn’t plan on carrying (although you clearly are thinking about it), this is a good idea. I happen to know you live in WA state so the  CPL is pretty straightforward. Every gun-class I’ve taken has wanted something beyond a driver’s license to prove I’m not a whack job. The CPL has sufficed alone for some; others have wanted a CPL + more. Also buying a pistol in WA state requires a waiting period w/out a CPL.

Just do it.

Take Classes

With a CPL, you will find my next suggestion  much easier: take classes. Classes are incredibly important, but bad classes are, well bad. So take some good classes.

There are lots of places to take classes, but fewer that are good. I will personally vouch for InSights and Thunder Ranch.  Both very good. I could go on and on and on about this, but lemme put it this way: owning a pistol without taking the classes is stupid and wrong.

People  who shoot their own  balls off probably didn’t  take the classes. Don’t be that guy.

So, onto random musings about carry pistols:


Does the grip feel “right” in your hand?

I think I must have the exact same hands as John Browning, because I adore both the 1911 and the Hi-Power grips. I don’t own a Glock for the opposite reason – the grip just feels alien to me.

Pick something that is comfortable.


Properly designed gear, handled appropriately (take the damn classes!), won’t shoot itself.

Two positive safeties is plenty enough. The 1911 has a grip safety and a manual safety. Having started out carrying a locked-and-cocked 1911, I  thumb down the safety automatically (even on the XD45, where there is no safety) just before I fire and click it back when I return to ready (even when it’s not there).

While I know and respect people who are worried about their guns going off by themselves (eg when they are in a holster), and for these people the idea that a 1911 is “cocked” when you are carrying it is scary as hell, I think that’s silly. The 1911 is a plenty safe gun.

XD 9mm sub-compact

The XD has a grip safety and a trigger safety, but no manual. Still good.

Glock G19

The Glock has a trigger safety and an internal (mumbo-jumbo) safety, but no one ever says that Glocks just go off by themselves, so Glocks get a pass. They go bang when you pull the trigger, don’t go bang any other time.

Double-action semi-automatic pistols attempt to solve the “OMFG COCKED HAMMER SCARY AHHHHH!” problem bymaking the first trigger pull  r e a l l y  l o o o o o n g.  This is the moral equivalent to putting the ice-cream out in the freezer in the garage.

I think you should either not buy the ice cream at all, or buy it and eat it. Why intentionally make something hard, when it ought to be easy?

Ah, but we can choose to carry most double action pistols in single action mode! Ha ha ha, take that, Peter! Yes, but that’s like putting the ice cream out in the garage, and then moving the TV into the garage, just so that your chances of being closer to the ice cream when you want it are higher, but it’s still in the garage, so…

Uhm, yeah, WTF?

Real safeties make the gun IMPOSSIBLE to shoot at all – on purpose or accidentally – when they are on, and easy to shoot on purpose when they are off. (Super-light triggers are potentially riskier because it can actually be hard to contact the trigger at all without a bang. The simple answer to that is a decent – say 4 pounds-ish –  trigger pull).

Long, horrible trigger pulls make the gun harder to shoot even when you really want it to go bang. That’s really not a safety, is it?

So: XD or Glock, both fine safeties.

Trigger Treatment Digression

There’s a rule about triggers. Really, learn and love the rules. Love the rules! The trigger rule is simple: We shouldn’t pull the trigger at all until we positively want the gun to go bang.

After that it ought to be automatic.We wonder, should we pull the trigger? Hmmm.

Then we decide.

Then we go bang.

We don’t wonder, then decide, then half-way through the trigger pull start to wonder again, maybe change our minds…. maybe make an omelette? Call a lifeline? No!

We don’t commit, then we commit. That’s the most fundamental aspect to the whole gun safety equation. Once I’ve decided I want the gun to go bang, I’d like it to go bang consistently, reliably, and immediately.





Ideally you learn the most general purpose manual at arms and then only buy guns that accomodate that. If you start out shooting a 1911 it is easy to adapt to a Glock (except for the feeling like you’re holding a plastic two-by-four). The safety is built into the trigger, and if you follow the trigger rule (which you will follow, because you learned it on the 1911) you’re safe, AND  the lack of a thumb or grip safety means you can’t accidentally make the gun not fire when it’s actually supposed to fire.

A Glock in the hands of a 1911 owner will still go bang when you pull the trigger. The other way round, it’s maybe not as easy. Glock owners don’t necessarily know to thumb the safety, so with a 1911 there might be a no bang when they want a bang because they forget  the thumb safety. Also if you  you have a (bad!) loose grip, the  Glock doesn’t care. But a 1911 (and an XD for that matter) do care. They want to be hugged, cradled, loved.

SIG 226

SIGs insist on having a complex manual at arms that they needed to design to make govt wonks happy.

Decockers are teh stupid. Esp. decockers that act like long, strange 1911 manual safeties. Really, who thought that one up? And the SIG trigger pull  is “okay” at the very best it will ever be.

But SIGs are amazingly well made guns and some people can shoot the shit out of ’em. And Zeva (on your right) shoots a SIG. So they are always something to consider. AND if you show up at range with a SIG in the blue box, and act vaguely like you know what you are doing, people will think youare a fed, which can be amusing if you aren’t one.

XD and Glock are both fine for MaA.


The 1911 has the best trigger in the world. SIG triggers? Sigh. I think we are starting to understand  how I feel about their general squishiness.

The XDM, or an older XD with the Springer Precision trigger job, has the best polymer-frame, striker-fired trigger in the world IMNSHO.

I have an XD with the trigger job, and while it’s not a 1911 trigger, it’s  gosh darn good. Glock triggers are okay.

XD for the trigger, but the Glock is good enough that this shouldn’t be a showstopper.


1911s are notorious for being finicky. That’s not entirely fair. A broken-in, well-maintained, clean, factory-made 1911 shooting decent factory ammo will shoot all day long with no issues. But you can tweak 1911s to the nth degree, and people do, and when they do, they do get finicky.

And back when John Browning (god rest his mighty soul) was making guns, it was assumed you would be taking the thing apart and cleaning and lubing it every time you shot it (duh! of COURSE you will do that!).

Most of us are not so inclined. Nothing beats a Glock for being reliable when mistreated and ignored. You can drop them in the sand, not clean ’em for 10K rounds, put them in your safe after shooting them in the rain, and when you take them out 6 months later they will still shoot every time you pull the trigger. Glocks just shoot. And shoot. And shoot.

XDs are closer to Glocks in their reliability. Probably not so good as Glocks, but plenty reliable. You can get either based on this.


Pick a reasonable goal – let’s say palm-sized-or-smaller groups at 25 feet? Get a gun mechanically capable of that 100% of the time. If you aren’t shooting that, then it’s you. Practice!

1911s practically shoot single holes all by themselves. This is why every top pistol shooter on the planet shoots a 1911.

Glock has special classes of shooting because in competition they just can’t compete with 1911s…

I personally think that XDs out of the box may be slightly more accurate than Glocks, but I have no data to back that up.  And it may be  a function of ergonomics, and whose palm you’re  using as your measurement and how far away the target is.

For self defense, zombie uprisings, and fun shooting, Glocks and XDs are both plenty good. They go bang, you can hit the thing you are trying to hit.


Greg Hamilton has a great take on this, paraphased here: “Do you know how to double the stopping power of a G19? Pull the trigger twice.”

People can get REALLY STUPID about caliber. The chances that we will ever need to shoot anyone are so ridiculously low, stressing out about caliber pushes things off into the many-millions-to-one land. Very few of us wear crash helmets in our cars when we commute. Stressing out about caliber is like being stuck in your Volvo on the 520 bridge in rush hour while wearing a crash helmet.

"Premium" Ammo by Companion Cube.

45ACP – 40SW – 357SIG – 9MM

I like  45ACP a lot, but I  lose approximately zero sleep over caliber. I know from FoFAST that I will probably shoot a target at least 3 times before I have any time to think about it, my shots will be on target, and I will keep shooting until the targets are down or to slide lock, at which point I will reload.

Three 9mm rounds to the triangle will ruin nearly anyone’s day, so go with a round you can shoot well.

.40 is funny – most .40s in the market are over-clocked 9mm frames and components, so they are kinda hacks. I like to shoot .40 but I don’t own one. I figure it lands in a weird place between the compactness and ubiquity of 9mm and the oomph and heft of .45.

.357 SIG is a “really? srsly?” round. Please. It’s a necked pistol round, really, why bother? And it’s loud as hell.

10mm I hate – I think it’s a mean-spirited round. I don’t like to shoot it, and it’s too damn long, so the grips on 10mms are shit.

Whatever that tiny-little-kevlar-helmet-ice-pick round is, that’s also a silly carry round.

.380 is better than nothing, but not something I choose to carry nor shoot, not when 9mm subbies can fit into my pocket and won’t (literally) hurt my back when I carry them all day.

.357 Magnum and .38 are fine revolver rounds, especially in the +P and +P+ configs. I don’t own any wheelguns and I can’t imagine carrying one concealed, but I’m sure I’ll pick up a couple at some point. Super reliable, inexpensive, go bang.

.44 Mag is a great round to shoot, provided it’s in a sufficiently hefty package. It’s not a concealed carry round. Back before I owned guns and just shot other peoples, I shot this caliber better than any other (including 22lr!) .

If I was worried about massive apex predators (brown bear, lions, polar bear, etc.) in the backcountry, I’d consider the  .44 Mag or something in that class. As it is when I’m out somewhere that there could possibly be one of those animals (however unlikely) I carry the XD45. That’s plenty of oomph and it’s not like carrying a piece of furniture around. I can carry that concealed, but extremely handy, on my normal hiking backpack, so when I stop in town and get a latte I don’t scare people.

All Pistols Are Full Of Compromises

Caliber brings us to a very important point about pistols – they are terrible compromises compared to nearly any decent rifle.

The biggest handgun rounds in the world – which require several pounds of metal to even attempt to tame – pale compared to most modern centerfire rifle rounds. An M1 carbine shooting the anemic .30 carbine round (basically a long pistol round) is still a better choice when faced with a threat than any carryable pistol (silly stock-less “assault pistols” notwithstanding – as a category they only exist because of stupid gun laws).

From a defense perspective, pistols are for short instances of extreme violence followed by waiting around for the cops to show up (because you called 911 as soon as you holstered your pistol), OR they are the tool you use to get your hands on a decent rifle so you are better prepared.

If I were to spend lots of time around things or people who I know are actually inclined to kill me (rather than random people who only might want to, on a bad day) I’d want to have a rifle.

Fortunately I don’t need to go out into populated areas chock-full of rifle-required threats.


Get a Kramer IWB.

That’s it. No discussion needed.


This is a rather long-winded way of getting to your basic question – XD or Glock? The simple answer, having re-read what I’ve written here, is that while both have a few limitations, they are both going to be just fine for most of the purposes your first pistol is suited for.

I’m going to pick up a small, high-cap 9mm myself at some point in the near future, either the new Beretta or the XD. Probably the XD because I already own one (XD45 compact), it’s my go-to gun, and I almost love the trigger.

Get a CPL, take a class, buy one, practice lots, stay safe, be smart, and to quote Clint Smith “don’t die stupid”.

And of course, have fun.

Personal, Security, Trust

Thing 3

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

A multi-part series…

Thing Three

Do you believe in ley lines?

Me neither.

However I can observe that, for whatever reason, some places have proven to be “stickier” for me than others. When I say sticky, I mean that these places have a statistically abberrant presence in my life. They stick to me, or I stick to them, I don’t know which… In some cases the reasons for this are quite obvious, but in others the reasons remain a mystery. I have a few places like this. (If Google maps wasn’t such an absolute piece of shit, and I hadn’t spent the past hour trying to create something to share with you, well, then I’d share all of them with you… as it is, you will have to settle for and just one place…)

That one place is, nearly exactly, right here. I’ve had 5 memorable experiences within streaking distance of this spot so far in my life. 3 of those events are the basis for stories which I tell now, and which I will likely be telling the day before I die. These stories are, in chronological order, “The Kegger on the Freeway”, “Strip Penny”, “Stranded”, “The Frogmen”, and “The Giant Dude with the Rake”. (I don’t tell “Kegger” and “Stranded” often because they aren’t really in the same class as the others. Pretty normal high school OMFGLOL.)

All of these stories – in fact nearly all of my stories – have particulars that I include or exclude, depending on the audience, to make them “age appropriate”, to protect people who haven’t given me permission to talk about their roles, or to try to keep from giving anyone any smart ideas. So if you know any of these stories, you may notice some slight changes or omissions, that’s why: The interwebz are forever.

This is the story of “Giant Dude with the Rake”.

It was a pleasant evening, about 10 PM, sometime in 2000 or 2001. I was driving from Broadmoor, out the back gate and heading to the Big White House on Capitol Hill. As I approached the intersection of Foster Island and Lake Washington, my internal alarm bells started going off. There was a small line of cars in front of me, and they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Not the right time for a traffic jam…  Beyond them, there seemed to be cars moving very slowly along Lake Washington Blvd. Hmmm. I thought “Accident?”, but there were no flashing lights, no aid cars, no cops.

Back up a little bit: I lean towards the “get involved” side of the engagement continuum. Okay, not just lean, kind of veer. I do like to be a hero, but I also know that there’s nothing more annoying than heroes looking for problems to solve. As it happens, at this exact time in my life I was trying to push the needle on my knight-in-shining-armor gauge more towards the “normal people” end of the spectrum. I was actively working on not stepping in…

Back up even more: I have lots of weird but, to me at least, interesting training and real world experience. I was involved with the Seattle chapter of Q-Patrol in the early 90’s, first as a recruit and later as a trainer. It was there that I learned, in some very hard-core and indispensable training as well as on patrol, how to be a good witness. I know what details to look for, to note when they happened sequentially as well as in relation to an unfolding series of events, so that I can recount them for anyone, including the police or in court.

In Q-Patrol we frequently role-played dozens, probably hundreds, of scenarios. A few people would be “mutants” (our code word for all bad guys), some victims, others  just participants. The rest was patrol. Mutants would come up with a real-world based scenario together, something we’d seen in real life, and then they’d start acting it out. If it was a guy beating up his girlfriend, that’s what the mutant role players would start to do. There would be screaming, hair pulling, slapping. Bloody lips, noses, bruises, scratches, scrapes, all par for the course.

This sometimes (but not always) got very physical. It was always extremely intense. The goal was to make it so real that when someone vastly bigger than you gets in your face and says “fuck you, you fucking faggot”, you’ve done that before and you neither punch the guy nor do you start to cry.

This training is called “Force on Force” training now (to be clear, we don’t think we invented it!) and if you want to be good at dealing with real-world problems, I strongly suggest you find a way to do it. Seeing Q-Patrol train this way is what got me interesed in the first place – I ran into them training in Volunteer Park, and I was soon hooked.

Once we were training in Volunteer Park and a rookie cop, fresh out of the military with his hair still cut very short, drove up on the grass and drew on us because he thought he was interrupting a real gay bashing. About a dozen cop cars and lots of talking later, I heard him say “I just got out of the Marine Corps, and we never trained that hard! You guys are crazy!”

In addition to Q-Patrol, at that point in my life I’d studied, in some cases seriously, in others less so, a bunch of martial arts, including, but not limited to, fencing, medieval sword fighting and weapons, at least 3 flavors of jits (some seminars, some belted) and Cuong Nhu. I’ve done a bunch more stuff since rake-night, including adding guns to my repetoire and airsoft-based Force On Force (FoFAST).

Back to the Arboretum! (I think my old writing teacher Rick Mar would call that “foreshadowing”.) My immediate instinct, sitting in the car, stopped, a length or so behind this small traffic jam, was “something weird is going on, I should jump out and help!”, but I caught that before I acted on it. Remember, I was trying to be Less Involved.

To the right of the traffic and headlights and concentrated energy of “something” was the shoulder, and so I decided to pull into the shoulder, skirt the of backed up cars, to skip whatever was going on… to just head home. So I pulled over, and slowly drove in the shoulder, heading for the Montlake cut. As I pulled through, to my right there were about a half dozen people on the grass, at least one on a cel-phone, others talking to each other or just staring. (For you young whelps, this was before cel-phones had cameras. I wish someone had video running, it would have been really fun to watch later!) They were all staring, looking or pointing into the center of the traffic conflagration.

As I drove past them I could now see what they were looking at. I have a vivid memory of it, but I also know that we sometimes make terrible witnesses. On the flip side, I’ve actually studied being a good witness, and I’m kinda OCD about recording things in my head. Here’s what I vividly remember from that moment, as seen through my car window and then, as I got back onto the road driving away very slowly, out of the rearview mirror:

A man, very large. Probably 6 foot 5, 300 pounds. He was wearing a tank top or a t-shirt and shorts. Maybe flip flops on his feet? I want to say his shorts were red, but I’m not sure. He was holding a large landscaping rake, the kind that only the pros seem to have. The pic isn’t exactly right, but close.

He alternated holding onto the rake like a bat or a wand (like a conductor). Like a bat, he would pound on the hood of a stopped car he was nearly on top of, and as a conductor he’d wave traffic along past the stopped car with the rake. The ushering part was very poetic, actually, nearly graceful, even, especially as it was contrasted with the pounding. He had one leg braced against the stopped car, as if he was holding it back. He would pound on the car, then usher cars past with the rake, then maybe take a swing at one of the passing cars, then hit the stopped car again.

Okay, so. As I am occasionally prone to holler in paintball: “wudda we got?”

  1. Giant guy pounding on cars with a lansdcaper’s rake.
  2. Stopped car, which presumably could drive over him at any time, but which hasn’t yet.
  3. People watching, at least one of whom has a cel phone, presumably having called the cops.
  4. Lots of cars.
  5. No sign of cops.

I drove on. End of story! Ha ha ha.

Yeah right… I made it a little ways down the road, then I stopped and turned around. (It was easier to turn back then – they keep making it harder and harder to whip a youee around there.)

The stopped car was what bugged me – everything else was pretty much okay. No one was in visible jeopardy, they were just driving away, and the bystanders were young and fit looking and far enough away to run from the dude, and really, they chose to stop and watch… It did piss me off that they seemed so willing to look, but not do. That bothered me.

But that car? Why was it stopped? Maybe it was broken down? So I drove back and pulled over on the shoulder of the road beside the mutant with the rake and the stopped car. I was maybe about 30 or 40 feet away now.

I could now see the driver of the car, she was a little old lady, I swear to god, white hair, blue rinse, the works. Aunt May.

Olay, so, this guy is Aunt May’s grandson, and he’s throwing a tantrum. That would make sense and explain why she didn’t just run him over. My window was already rolled down, so I kind of leaned out and yelled to her, and she rolled down her window.

Me: “Do you know this guy?” (Smash, rake hits car.)

Aunt May: “NOOO! HELP ME! HE’S GOING TO KILL ME!!!!!!!!!”

Okay, so. Really, up to this point, I was totally rational about what I was doing. If she’d said “he’s my grandson!” I might have just been, okay, your family, you get to solve the problem. One thing Q-Patrol had drilled into my head is that you don’t get involved in family disputes if you can possibly avoid it.

Really, I swear, that’s what I was intending. This was a new me, a no-lycra-wearing normal guy, driving home.


I came up with a rule for what happened in this moment. It’s Peter Biddle’s “little old lady clause”. Most of us have things inside us that can cause us to do something that we wouldn’t otherwise do, events or circumstances that significantly alter our behaviors. Taking a look at the chart from the last “Thing” post, these things are manipulations which push us away from “do nothing” towards “do something”.

In this case, it wasn’t just the little old lady.

  • I have a predispostion to heroic action and even specific training for it.
  • In the immediate moment, I had bystanders standing around doing nothing (WTF????)
  • a crazy mutant bad guy that is so bizarre he wouldn’t be believable in anything but real life
  • a little old white haired lady pleading for her life.

Yeah, I was pretty much fucked. I was going to Do Something. <sigh> I can’t remember my own circumstance of 911 and the cops. Maybe I called them, maybe my batt was dead (that would be nothing new!) or maybe I forgot my cel? Don’t know. Help other than me didn’t seem to be immediately forthcoming, and in the means, oppty, motiveequation, he:

  • clearly had the means (the dude could have torn her in half with his bare hands)
  • oppty, well, yeah, she’s just sitting there like 10 feet from him
  • motivation? No clue, but clearly whatever it is, it’s allowing him past the general inhibitions that keep the rest of us from beating on cars with a rake.

Okay, so:

  1. make sure that if you die, they can find your ID. So, out comes the wallet, it goes into the passenger seat.
  2. Then you want to make sure you can drive away later if you aren’t dead or in an ambulance, so the car keys go on the dash board.
  3. Keep the window rolled down so you don’t wind up locked out of your own car when it’s all done
  4. turn off the headlights so your battery doesn’t die.
  5. Empty your pockets of everything: change, money, pet frog, 3 loose bolts, stray busines cards from Japanese executives… the usual stuff you are carrying in your pockets.

You’ll note I didn’t have a knife, pepper spray, nor a gun. I did carry a knife back then but I started losing them to airport security a lot (they had savvied onto all my tricks!) and so there would be times I didn’t have them. Very annoying. Pepper spray and guns I didn’t ever have with me back then, that was when I was just a latent gun nut. Pepper spray might have been really nice.


Get out of the car. Put your hands up in front of you, palms outward, in a highly defensible, but also non-threatening manner, arms bent, appearing relaxed but alert. Smile confidently!

Start walking slowly. Say, and in your Voice of Command Authority: “HEY! WHAT’S GOING ON!” You do this to get his attention, to divert him from everything else. You want to see his eyes, to see if you can talk him out of this activity. This is something that most martial arts and self defense training miss – sometimes you can talk your way out of it. In fact, most times you can.

Your whole attitude is now that you two are having a relationship (whether he likes it or not) and in this relationship, it simply isn’t acceptable to be hitting cars with rakes and holding poor little old ladies hostage. It’s just not done.

He looked at me, and I saw his eys, and there wasn’t really a person there. Pupils the size of plates, he couldn’t even focus on my face, just sort of scanned past me, looking for whatever that annoying noise was. I think I actually snapped my fingers at that point, like you do when you are trying to take a picture of a fidgety toddler or a dog, and said “HEY! OVER HERE!”.

Nothing. Okay, he’s a particularly stupid dog. Not even a toddler. Not much to reason with. Crap!

Well, as I said, you’ve already decided that rake-assault is not an approrpriate behavior in this new relationship. You’ve given him a chance to talk things through, he’s, erm, declined… So if you can’t talk to him, then you need to get him away from the things he clearly wants to damage (cars) and the things he might decide to damage (little old ladies, damn them and their blue-rinse maniuplations!). Then maybe you can sort things out, have a cup of tea.

Keep walking, keep talking with your Voice of Command Authority.

What is this magic voice? It’s the voice you use, if you are dog owner, to make your dog sit. If you are a mom it’s the voice you save for when you use their entire name, including the middle names, in full. “MICHAEL PHILLIP SAMUEL SMITH! Come here RIGHT NOW.” If you are a dad it’s the voice you use when your kid is running towards the street… It’s NOT JUST YELLING!!!!!!!. In fact, it may even be somewhat quiet. It will usually be lower in tone, and always steady. It is your projection of power. I once watched a 110 pound young woman make a drunk and violently brawling guy at least twice her size sit on the sidewalk by pointing at him and saying “SIT!” and then pointing at the ground. (Julia, you rock!) He just sat.

For this to work, you have to really mean it, and you have to believe it yourself.

If you have kids, this voice is one of the most important first steps you can take to teach them to take of themselves. It’s extremely important. Dogs can really help with this. If the dog sits when you say “Sit!”, but not when the kid says “uhm, please sit?“, you need to teach your kid how to compel the dog to obey with her voice. Kids need to earn respect from dogs, dogs will naturally consider them to be part of the pack.  If the dog only obeys them because of you, then the dog may still think they are second in command, rather than last, which is where they should be, behind you and all your kids. Your kids should be able to make the dog do anything you can make it do, even when you are 100 miles away.

As you approach the mutant, formulate a general plan. Mine went something like this:

  • Avoid getting hit by the rake, punched by those ham-sized fists, or grabbed. (Later I had to add “bitten“. Those were situational tactics, rather than an over-arching strategy.)
  • Control the mutant so you can keep him from hurting you too badly and so you can compel him to go away from the scene and towards somewhere else.
  • Choose somewhere that won’t hurt as much when you fall down, possibly with 300 pounds of drugged out and/or insane whack-job on top of you. Real fights are sloppy and ugly, and it seemed quite possible that this might now be a real fight.

Note that I’m not saying take him out where he stands. I control this relationship, if were are going to conflict, I make it where I want it to happened. He picked this place, my next step in asserting my dominance over him will be to compel him to go somewhere else. Also, he’s Very Big, I am Not So Big, and pavement and cars are very hard and have sharp edges that will hurt if you hit them. So, those are bad.

Grass is nice and soft comparatively speaking. So grass is good! Fortunately, there was grass just beyond the mutant, pretty much in a straight line. The grass currently occupied by the Innocent Bystanders.

Well, they are just going to have to move off of your grass, because that’s what it is now. Yours.

First things first: negate the rake. As I got to him, I shot my hand out and put it over one of the hands he had on the rake. He hadn’t decided to smack me yet, that was nice. As soon as I grabbed the rake, he tried to smash me in the face with it, but that didn’t work, because I was on the rake too. It’s now our rake! We share, so nice. So the rakes negated for the moment.

Now, I want him on the grass, that’s behind him. He was just too big to actually carry there on my own, so I want him to want to head towards the grass, or away from me, and based on his total lack of humanity, I needed to rely on lizard-brain-stem responses. Choking should be good. Lizards will try to get away from choking. I took my other forearm, the one not attached to the hand attached to the hand attached to the rake, and I shoved it, hard, against his wind pipe, which was as high as my forearm would go. He was tall.

Then, you lean forward and shove as you walk. He’s choking, it’s unpleasant, so he pulls his head back. Now, if he doesn’t take some steps backawards, he’ll fall down on his ass, so he’ll take the steps. You, you just keep walking.

All this shoving and choking and controlling behavior will start to annoy him. He was having a perfectly fine time doing the rake thing, and here you are, RUINING EVERYTHING! Sooner or later he may decide that he’s not having anymore of it. He decided this in my case by trying to punch me in the face with his right fist right about when we got to the grass, and the Innocent Bystanders were moving out of the way.

It’s a big roundhouse, head under the punch, then head back up when it passses, now the back and side of my head are against his tricep and I push on him with the rake hand so he spins around. This actually works! So he’s now standing with his back to me. I want to choke him out, but there’s no way I can get an arm around his neck from behind him, so I need to be higher or he needs to be lower.

I take lower, so I reach around his face to find his nose so I can use that to tilt his head back, then I can drag him backwards onto his ass, but now he’s all riled up, and I barely have any control of him. He drops the rake, and is turning, when one of the Innocent Bystanders – one whose little old lady clause has now gone off and standing around is no longer an option for him – sees what I’m doing, so he runs up, bends down, grabs the guys ankles, and pulls. So I’m pulling back on the face, but his feet, while planted, aren’t moving anywhere.

I’m pulling back over the with the bridge of his nose, +1 dude is pulling in the opposite direction on his ankles, and down he goes. We are scrambling around on him now, me and the +1, when two more +1’s jump on. We now have a guy on each leg, one on his chest, and I’m on his right arm, and now he starts trying to bite me, I’m trying and failing to get an armbar while I’m avoiding his foaming mouth and his biting, and now he’s yelling, he actually speaks now, in English!

He yells “get off of me!” The guy on his chest, bless his heart, actually says “stop struggling and we’ll let you go!” I look at him and say something like “are you fucking crazy? we’re not letting this guy go until the cops get here!” At which point the dude on his chest, who seems to want to actually strangle the guy until I tell him to knock that off too, says “okay! we aren’t letting you go!” <sigh> Giant dude then tries to bite me more, and do stuff with his left, but we’ve pretty much got him pinned, all 4 of us.

Finally – and it was minutes on the ground, it felt like hours but I think the total elapsed time of the entire event was about an hour – a cop car shows up. We cheer. Yay, cops, woo hoo! FINALLY! Out of the cop car steps a single, 100 pound female cop. No partner. She shines her mag lite at us, shines it in the guys eyes, they don’t dilate. She steps back. The mutant now speaks: “Get these guys off of me!!!!!!!!!”. She says something into her radio, something like “please send about 20 really big guys to the arboretum” and then says to us “you guys doing okay?” we say sure. She says “Then I think we’ll wait for backup.”

A few minutes later, all of the SPD shows up. After some brief talking amongst themselves, one of them walks over and shines his light in the mutants eyes. Still no dilation. He says, in his Voice of Command Authority, and I swear to go he had this great NY accent: “Okay, here’s how this is going to work. On the count of three, these guys are going to let you go, and you are going to WALK over to that police car. If you do anything else, I’m going to have these guys kick your ass some more.”

Recall that there were many cops present now. He repeats these instructions, and as he does, like magic, the mutant starts to calm down. It’s amazing, he’s like a horse whisperer, a drugged-out-mutant-with-a-rake whisperer, and when he says three, we step away, and a small crowd of cops walks with him over to the car. It’s like he’s in a trance. But the trance breaks when he puts his hands on the hood of the car. He takes a swing at one of the cops, and then, of course, it’s all over for him. He goes down in a pig pile of blue.

We give our statements. The head cop, NY accent dude. says that calls to 911 about “someone running around the arboretum with a rake” aren’t given top priority. Calling back and saying the same thing doesn’t get their attention any faster. Calls that say something like “there’s a guy trying to kill an old lady with a rake” get more attention.

I drive away. No one ever calls me back, I don’t even know the names of the guys who were involved.

I really do think, if it hadn’t been for these things, I never would have gotten out of that car:

  • The car just sitting there.
  • Those do-nothing, just watching losers on the grass.
  • The old lady’s cry for help, which by itself might well have done me in.

The thing that I really appreciate from all this, is that I now know that I HAVE a little old lady clause.

It’s not just little old ladies, it’s more than that. But I know a lot more about it now than I used to, and that means that when I find myself about to do things that I haven’t fully thought through, or that I may be about to undertake, things that aren’t clearly in my own best interest, I have more tools to examine myself and the situation, and I think that makes me at least more intentional and less prone to any manipluation that seeks to take advantage of my good nature.

Remember those 419s? They are all about finding our little old lady clauses. It turns out that some of them we all have – we are all at least a little bit greedy, for example.

But the personalization of them – eg making some Evangelical Christian – is all about trying to boost the chances of sinking a hook in, in exchange for a smaller audience. The more personalized a scam, the better the chances it will work, because it can be tailored to target very specific LOLCs.

If it is targetting ones that I, Peter N. Biddle, have, or better yet combinations of ones that are known to push me from a do nothing to a do something place, then the chances of them working are much higher.

A combination of things not making sense (car not moving), people not doing anything (The Innocent Bystanders) and real jeopardy (thanks little old lady!) were enough to get me involved in a stuation that could have gotten me really badly hurt, or even killed. If mutant dude had gotten the better of me, and the Innocent Bystanders didn’t step in (they only got involved in force when it was clear the danger to themselves was substantially reduced, AND when my actions had shrunk their balls to the size of peas), he could have put a world of hurt on me before the cops finally got there.

This is Really Important. In the next posting, I will try to make it All Make Sense.