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Dr. Conspiracy’s guide to hard drive recycling

Because of interest in a recent story about an unrecoverable hard drive used by Lois Lerner of the IRS, I took a few minutes to explain why a recycled drive might not readable. Here is

Dr. Conspiracy’s guide to hard drive recycling

If you are a government agency with surplus computer equipment, it is important that sensitive data not fall into the wrong hands such as a Republican-led Congressional committee, or a right-wing talk show host, when that equipment is taken out of service. This handy tutorial shows how to erase information from a hard drive before recycling.

Specifications for hard drives include limits on the amount of shock the drive can absorb without damage. Since the goal of the procedure is to prevent the drive from performing, shock is a good first step in making the drive unreadable. As a professional government employee, it is important to dress professionally when carrying the procedures in this tutorial. The following illustration shows one measured way to apply shock to the drive:


After the procedure the drive should look similar to this:


A second limiting factor in a hard drive’s ability to function properly and retain its data is temperature. Here you will want to review the “storage temperature” on the drive and apply heat in excess of the published limit. Be sure to wear safety glasses when carrying out this procedure:


Here is the hard drive following application of the elevated temperature procedure:


Most drives have a warning against opening the drive, as this can introduce dust and other foreign matter that can render the drive unreadable. The following illustration shows one method for opening the hard drive. First select an appropriate tool such as this:


Insure that you have a clear area around you when opening the drive:


The following detail photo shows the proper placement of the tool on the drive:


The following illustrates how the hard drive should look after completing of the procedure. Note that the procedure should be repeated until the drive is clearly open.

IMAG0012_croppedAfter concluding the simple three steps above, you can be assured that data will not be read from the hard drive by the wrong people.

How to look important

  1. Issue demands. Be audacious and demand it right now. By making demands of someone, you put yourself in their league; hence, the more important the person you demand from, the more important you look. Down side: You look pathetic if the person ignores you, or makes a joke about you.
  2. Give yourself an important title. Call yourself a lieutenant, a grand jury foreman or a journalist. Extra credit if you call yourself something with a science-sounding title like “forensic document examiner.” Down side: You look pathetic when people notice that you haven’t earned the title.
  3. Create a fancy web site. Lots of folks judge a book by its cover. Use bold graphics and popular symbols. Down side: You look pathetic when someone checks your site’s ratings and they are like 5 millionth in the US.
  4. Start a movement. Think big. Call for 1,000,000 people to march on Washington DC. Throw in some demands. Down side: You look pathetic when nobody but you and your cousin Vern show up.
  5. Claim that you are on a first name basis with God. You really look important to the folks who are impressed by that kind of thing.

Sekrit: a tutorial on encryption

Letter - Top Secret

In order to pull the birthers’ chain and to contribute to a sense of community, Obots use the word “sekrit” instead of “secret.” I was reminded of secrecy when I read the article over at the Oh, For Goodness Sakes! blog that mentioned a birther project called “White Rose.” Like something in a chain email, it’s probably fantasy rather than real. The birthers had a lot of fun passing the story around, though. Squeeky Fromm did a hilarious look at the thing on the Birther Think Tank blog.

The part that I want to focus on is this:

Working over the last several months, using information already gleaned by other investigators and communicating via encrypted email and private social networks, the group has pieced together a web of conspirators including members of the legal profession, the IT community, journalists, web bloggers, Obama operatives and government officials.

I’ve never bothered much with encryption except for the KeePass program I have on my flash drive where I store passwords. Encryption seems more trouble than it’s worth for most things. When I was working, I transported protected health information (including medical records of AIDS patients) and vital records, and when doing that one must be responsible in handling other people’s information, and so of course I encrypted these files heavily.

There is strong encryption and weak encryption. Tools on the Internet will crack (read without the password) many PDF files that use PDF encryption. Some protection that office productivity programs provide when saving a file are easily cracked too. If you rely on any encryption scheme, read up on it first to see how strong it is.

I wanted to mention a few strong encryption options, should you need that type of security. I’m a Microsoft Windows user, so those are what I’m talking about, although some of these are available on other platforms. Continue Reading →

The birther contribution to American jurisprudence

Dealing with frivolous litigation, whether filed by a seasoned attorney or a novice pro se litigant, is a bit like wrangling cats.

Robert J. Davis

Where's the Birth Certificate? billboardWhile one doesn’t usually combine “birther” and “contribution” in the same sentence, the birther phenomenon has left its mark on the US justice system through educational examples, black letter law, and a bit of humor to spice up otherwise dull legal briefs. This article details ways in which the birthers in general, and Orly Taitz in particular, have contributed to the law.

A good example of bad behavior

I don’t know whether they teach this at the William Howard Taft online law school, but there are certain standard reference works that attorneys rely on to inform their practice and to find the citations that they need to make legal arguments. One source is the Practicing Law Institute whose mission is:

To enhance the professionalism of attorneys and other qualified persons by providing, in a cost effective manner, the highest quality and most innovative programs, publications and other services to enable them to practice law competently and ethically, and to fulfill pro bono responsibilities.

In 2010, the PLI published a paper by Koral and Price titled: “Trying the Court’s patience instead of the case: common litigation mistakes” to draw the line between “zealous advocacy” and “impermissible or injudicious tactics.” One way of brightening the line is to give examples of what constitutes “impermissible or injudicious tactics” and the birthers, in the person of Orly Taitz, provide a featured example of being on the wrong side of the line. Writing about Rhodes v. MacDonald, where Judge Clay D. Land sanctioned Taitz:

Attorney Orly Taitz provides a notorious recent example of an attorney’s conduct succeeding more at irritating the judge than at advancing the interests of her client. A member of the “birther” movement, which challenges President Obama’s citizenship on the grounds that he had failed to adequately prove that he was born in the United States, Ms. Taitz filed a motion in connection with this litigation on behalf of a Captain in the United States Army to enjoin her deployment to Iraq. District Judge Clay D. Land held that the motion was frivolous, and further found that “Plaintiff’s motion is being presented for the improper purpose of using the federal judiciary as a platform to espouse controversial political beliefs rather than as a legitimate forum for hearing legal claims.”

Taitz was sanctioned for her conduct in the case because, as Judge Land said:

[t]his pattern of conduct reveals that it will be difficult to get counsel’s attention [and so a] significant sanction is necessary to deter such conduct.

The PLI article was written in 2010, before Orly Taitz brought a federal lawsuit against Judge Land. I wonder what the article would say if it were written today!

Black letter law

The Wikipedia article on Precedent says:

gavelIn common law legal systems, a precedent or authority is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.

Black letter law is the body of cases that attorneys and courts look to for established precedent. If you have ever read a birther legal decision that involves dismissal for lack of standing, you will almost invariably see Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife cited. Once the body of birther lawsuits built, one began to see citations on standing to decided birther cases, notably Hollander v. McCain and Berg v. Obama. More recently we see extensive citations to Ankeny v. Governor of Indiana alongside US v. Wong on the question of whether Obama is a natural born citizen and Robinson v. Bowen on ripeness of election challenges.

The precedential value of birther lawsuits now extends beyond the backwaters of birtherism; they have become mainstream precedent in several areas of the law and now appear in the standard reference resources used by attorneys.

Continue Reading →

Spell checking

imageSince I’ve been running this blog, I have been puzzled by bad spelling in the comments, and I don’t mean comments from illiterate birther mouth breathers, but from professional folks. I know that they know better. I sometimes notice misspelled words in comments and correct them, but you certainly cannot rely on that happening.

So today I found that Ms. Conspiracy had misspelled a word on her Facebook page, and I asked her why the spell checker didn’t catch it.

“What spell checker?”

And thereby I learned something: Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn’t have a spell checker. I use Firefox for almost everything and of course it has a real-time spell checker so that anytime I misspell a word it’s underlined in red and a right-click menu offers suggestions that can be selected to replace the misspelled word.  Google Chrome has a spell checker too.

A little searching found add-ins for Internet Explorer that check spelling. One example is Speckie, free for personal use (I’ve not used this myself and this is not an endorsement). So, save yourself some “embarrassment” (the word Ms. Conspiracy misspelled) and consider a spell checker for your browser.

Forensic document stuff (Part 2—Typewriters)

I’m not an expert on typewriters, but I own one and I’ve used one since at least 1967 when I took typing in high school. There are forensic document examiners that specialize in typewriters, but so far as I know, none are birthers. One birther, Paul Irey, says he was a typist, and that at one point in his career he used a typewriter for publishing. He is what birthers call “an expert.” Neither of us would ever make the cut to testify in court. But I’m a blogger, and I can write about anything.

In basic terms, a typewriter is a mechanical device that works when a type slug bearing a raised character, strikes an inked ribbon, that in turn strikes paper, leaving the imprint of a letter or symbol. A mechanism in the typewriter moves the paper after each strike to position it to receive the next letter. In the best of worlds, the typewriter would produce results like this:


What we see above is perfectly-aligned simulated typewriter printing with additional grid lines to show how each letter is perfectly centered within a conceptual horizontal region (typically one tenth of an inch wide).

The print slug sits at the end of a type bar that is swung at the paper. There is some play in that mechanism, so an additional piece of hardware is used to keep the spacing uniform; it’s called a “type bar guide.” The type bar travels through a narrowing wedge defined by the guide so that it falls dead center within the tenth of an inch region, or should. One typewriter repair manual puts it this way:

The type bar guide is an important factor in alignment. If the sides of the guide are too far apart, there will be a lot of play in the bars as they enter the guide. A summary of all the bars should be made and the type bar guide closed up by means of set screw to suit the majority of the type bars.

Type bars and guides are subject to wear:

[There is] wear on the type bar due to the constant chopping action of the type bar on the type guide at the moment of the blow of the type on the platen. No matter how hard the surface of the type guide or bar may be this constant chopping will wear the guide and as a consequence destroy the alignment.

Rudolph P. Brandt – 1926

Continue Reading →