Saturday, 29 April 2006

Even though I didn’t really do anything yesterday, I was pretty beat after the show last night (review forthcoming), yet I still had a hard time sleeping last night. Most of it is due to being an insomniac in a strange bed, but having a hotel downtown with a room on the first floor didn’t certainly didn’t make it any easier.

After an extra nap in the morning, I finally rolled out of bed around 0900 and headed over to Delectable Egg for breakfast. The place was listed in the rental car city guide and I didn’t really want to think about where to go. I kept it simple with French toast and bacon and a huge glass of orange juice. Nothing much to say about it because how hard is it to do routine breakfast food correctly?

After breakfast, I decided to try to hit a couple of the sites I wanted to catch yesterday before it got rained out. First on the list was the Denver Botanical Gardens. I was pretty impressed — 23 acres (according to the guide) with tons of stuff going on, even this early in the year.

They have several ponds and reflecting pools spread around the site along with some interesting sculptures and, as you can guess, tons of plants. Unfortunately most of their Japanese garden, the one thing that actually drew me there in the first place, was closed off. They were working on the water feature in that area and had it surrounded by a 6-foot tall fence. It occurs to me I didn’t see any cherry blossom trees either.

The rest of the garden, however, was quite lovely.

Either it wasn’t in bloom or I managed to completely miss their rose garden, but it’s no big deal as their perennial walk more than made up for it. They had a spectacular assortment of flowers (none of which I can name), including several varieties of tulips. Another area of the garden had several beds in full bloom with still more tulips; it was really quite the site.

It took a couple hours, but I managed to see the whole place with the exception of the ornamental grasses display. I got nearly 400 pictures there, including several of a small arboretum with some Japanese bells. The bells made up for the Japanese garden being closed.

After the garden, I really wanted sushi for lunch. One place that came recommended was Hapa Sushi Grill. My guide said it was at 1117 Pearl St. No mention of North or South. After 45 minutes trying to find it, I gave up and went back to the Hotel. Once there I tried finding them in the phone book without any luck. Then I jumped on CitySearch and looked it up. They’re in Boulder…30 miles away. Sure, I have the car, but I’m not going 30 miles for sushi in a strange town — I have my standards.

The place that Jill said was pretty good doesn’t appear to be open for lunch on Saturday, so it was back to CitySearch where I saw that Mori Sushi Bar got good reviews. Off I went.

They weren’t bad, but I don’t know that they deserved the good reviews. The decor was kind of lacking but the food was decent. In the Twin Cities, I’d compare then to Sushi Tango, but not as bright-shiney-Uptown. I tried their California roll, plus some tuna and salmon nigiri. It satisfied my urge for sushi, but made me wish I was back home at Origami.

Appetite sated, I took a jaunt over to the Colorado State Capitol so I could stand on the mile-high step and take a few pictures. Then it was off to Union Station so I could bask in it’s old-train glory and snap a few pictures along the way.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I was hungry again, and in the mood for Italian food. With a bit of searching, and a lot of luck, I found the perfect place. One that was so good, it deserves a post unto itself so I can do it justice.

It will come as no surprise to my friends that I’m willing to travel just to see a concert. I hate to travel, mostly because it weirds me out; all the strange people and strange places. I like knowing where I am and having the ability to just do things without having to think about it so much.

But for the right band, I’ll go. In this case it was Massive Attack in Denver. It helps, somewhat, that I have family in the Denver area, so when the opportunity came up, I took it.

You see, Massive Attack doesn’t really tour the United States that much. At least they haven’t in the past. They’ve stated publicly that they don’t care for how our government is handling international affairs and don’t like our drug laws. It seems they like to light a blunt now and again and the US gets a bit too uppity about it for their taste.

Recreational proclivities aside, I’ve always loved Massive Attack. Protection is one of my favorite albums and is in my “Desert Island Top 10.” Their music a sonic treat having just the right mix of a wide variety of elements that make them a chill-out staple.

The Filmore in Denver is a pretty good concert venue. It looks much like a basketball court that has been converted into a concert hall. There’s a huge dance floor in front of the 5′ tall stage and a platform surrounding the main floor that’s about 6′ up.

I got there pretty early, so I managed to get a spot dead center, no more than 20 feet from the stage. Being that close in you’re pretty much guaranteed a good show, but I was about to find out just how good it could be.

The opening act is barely worth mentioning. It was some DJ I had never heard of that just spun records for 60 minutes. It was all house music and nothing else. No light show, no scratching or other DJ trickery, really nothing at all to watch . Just a guy standing there manning a couple turntables.

After the opener was done and his gear cleared, it was time for the main attraction: Massive Attack. I had heard they put on a good show before, but I really wasn’t ready for this.

They had a couple keyboard players, a couple drummers/percussionists, a couple guitars, a bass player, and I swear nearly every singer that’s done vocals on their albums.

The light show was amazing, even in it’s simplicity. They had these pillars, about 20 of them, all across the back of the stage two or three feet apart. Each pillar had 10-12 light bars on it and each light bar had 6 or 8 light positions. It turns out that each light position was actually a set of super-bright, multi-color LED spots. They were so bright they could, and occasionally did, light up the whole place with them. It felt like staring into the sun at times. It created some great lighting effects which I think may have come out in a couple of the the pictures I took during the show.

They also used the LED array to spell out messages, mostly statistics about the war in Iraq; deaths on both sides, monetary costs, things that money could have been spent on to make the world a better place. It doesn’t really come out in the music, but it’s kind of part of who the band is. Besides, as close as I was, you couldn’t really read the stuff.

As for the music itself, it was fantastic. The tour was in support of their best-of retrospective, so they played all of the favorites. Lots of stuff off Protection, 100th Window, Mezzanine, and maybe even a couple from Blue Lines.

What surprised me quite a bit was that some of the songs on Protection, like the title track itself, they had a guy doing the vocals. They had a woman doing vocals for some of the other songs, but there were a quite a few that the guy did. Looking at the credits, it is actually a woman on the album, but it just wasn’t at all what I expected. But it was still a very good thing.

Sorry, I’m not sure what either of their names were.

Another huge surprise was when Elizabeth Fraser from Cocteau Twins came out and did vocals on several songs. That really made for a perfect evening. It couldn’t have gotten any better at that point: my all-time favorite female vocalist (from my all-time favorite band) there, in concert, singing with another top-10 band. I think my smile must have wrapped completely around my head at that point.

As I’ve said before, I’m lousy at keeping track of songs at shows because I tend not to actually know them by their titles. I’m not going to even try in this case.

I took a bit shy of 400 pictures during the show, although with the lighting not many of them are going to turn out. One of these days I’ll get the good ones on-line. There were also no autographs to be had, which is really a shame, since I would have killed for the opportunity to get a picture with Elizabeth Fraser and as well as the guys (3D, Daddy G, and Mushroom – the main people behind the group.)

If you ever get a chance to see them play live, absolutely go. It was one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had.

Friday, 28 April 2006

Here it is Friday, and I’ve barely left the hotel. It’s been raining off and on all day, so I decided to skip my walking tour of Downtown Denver sites. It’s kind of a disappointment, but as long as I see Massive Attack — the whole point in the trip — everything will be OK. Anything else I manage to fit in will be just gravy.

Part of the reason for walking was to avoid spending half my day looking for parking spots. The original plan was to stand on the mile-high step at the State Capitol (it actually has a marker), then down the block to the the Colorado History Museum and on to the Denver Art Museum. If there was still time before lunch, I’d run through the Denver Mint. After that would be lunch on the way back to the hotel, grab the car, then check out Union Station (as if I’d skip a train station), the botanical gardens, the Denver Zoo, and the Museum of Natural History.

With the rain, and since I had to move the car, I hopped down to Pasquini’s Baking (found them in the yellow pages and on my map) for breakfast, then the Denver Art Museum. I couldn’t find parking near the mint, so I headed back to the hotel and spent the rest of the day reading, save for a short jaunt out for lunch.

I got hungry again around 4, so I walked down the street to a Mexican place called Las Delicias to grab an early dinner. I wanted something in my stomach because I knew I wouldn’t make it through the show without it.

More on the show later. I’ll have a whole separate post about that.

Thursday, 27 April 2006

Why is it, no matter what I do, my gate is always at the ass-end of the airport. That’s the real reason they want you there two hours early — you need the time to walk to the gate because they don’t actually use the gates near the airport entrance.

Aside from paying $7 for a day-pass, WiFi on the airport concourse is cool. More cool than eTickets and self check-in. For the paranoid: it helps if you can bounce everything through an IPSEC tunnel to your home network. Encryption stronger than WEP is a damn fine thing.

Kvetching out of the way, I’m excited about this trip. The entire reason is to see Massive Attack play live. Reportedly they don’t do a full US tour because they don’t like several of our government’s policies. I learned they were doing one show each in Seattle, Denver, and India CA; so with some vacation time to burn, I decided to take in the Denver show. It’s one of those once in a lifetime deals.

Having family in and around Denver area doesn’t hurt either. I tried my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Don, but they’re in Wichita KS to see their grand-daughter’s dance recital. My cousin Jill also lives in the area, so I gave her a ring. Unfortunately she’s working most of the weekend, but we did set something up for dinner Thursday.

Once I arrived in Denver, I picked up the rental car and headed for the hotel. I got lost once on the way, overshooting things by quite a ways. Once there, I was a bit surprised. It’s not so much a hotel as it is a corporate apartment complex. It’s an older building and the room is about twice the size of your average hotel room. The bedroom space is separate from the living/dining room area and it has a full, if tiny, kitchen.

They have DSL in the room, however the WiFi on the DSL box wasn’t configured. Luckily they didn’t bother to lock down the router, so I was able to set up my own SSID and WEP key, then route everything through an IPSEC tunnel like I did a the airport.

After Jill got off work, we headed for dinner. I was completely open to suggestions, so she suggested Pete’s Greektown Cafe just off Colfax, essentially the main drag in Downtown Denver. Decorated like a typical diner, with brushed aluminum counters, it was good stuff. It had been a while since I had Greek food, so I went with the gyros dinner and got plenty of food. The service was good and the food was delicious.

After dinner, Jill dropped me at the hotel and I called it a night.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

My work sent me to an Information Security conference last Thursday and it turned out to be pretty OK. At first I thought it was going to be a total bust, and it was all the way through lunch, but the afternoon speaker made the whole day worthwhile.

The conference consisted mainly of several security vendors, each taking a turn telling you what you should be afraid of and, strangely enough, they just happened to sell a product that would take care of it for you. Spam prevention via email, Trojan horses via instant messaging, firewall and intrusion detection systems.

Don’t get me wrong, all of these are valuable tools in a comprehensive information security arsenal, but none of the presentations were tempered at all. They geared more toward people wearing the management hat rather than the engineering hat. It was all terribly unfortunate and made for a very dull time.

The first keynote speaker, Dan Thormosgaard, spoke about “Implementing a Secure Wireless Infrastructure.” The subject had the potential to be very interesting, but as a speaker he was sleep inducing. By lunch time I was ready to go into a coma. After lunch it wasn’t looking too good either. Two more vendor presentations that were really no better than the morning sessions.

Finally, after the afternoon break (the breaks were surprisingly long too, 45 minute “coffee-breaks” and almost 90 minutes for lunch), the afternoon keynote speaker took the stage and rocked the house.

Ira Winkler is usually described as a “Modern Day James Bond,” which factors into his presentation a bit. He’s an engaging speaker that knows his topic and keeps things moving. He started out by saying that James Bond and the Jennifer Garner character from Alias are lousy spies, but that’s necessary to making movies and television shows entertaining.

Why are they lousy? They good guys get caught every time. And it’s not like the bad guys are rocket scientists either. How smart is it if, when you capture the person sent to stop you, that you tell them your master plan before you leave them with some time delay method to die from which the good guy can escape easily. And the good guys are clumsy and dumb enough to get caught by these jokers.

In the real world, the good guys seldom get caught. They have to keep it that way because if they do, they die almost instantly. So that’s why every TV and movie spy are bad at their jobs.

Then he segued into risk management, which is what information security really is. It comes down to a fairly easily expressed formula:

Winkler told three stories of security evaluations for which he has been contracted to break into a company and try to steal their most valuable assets. Most of the time those assets are in the form of intellectual property. Business strategy documents, financials, nuclear plant designs. In each case, most of his work was done via social engineering, rather than brute forcing his way into their network.

The point is that in the formula, threat never really changes. That’s other people, and you can’t control what other people will do. Likewise, you can’t really change the value of the asset. It’s worth what it’s worth, whether that’s $10 or $10 billion, and it typically goes up over time.

What you can manage is your vulnerability by enacting countermeasures. The trick is that there’s a sweet spot; a point where the price of the countermeasures exceeds the value of the asset. One example is a computer mouse. They cost around $20 these days. They’re essentially disposable when you consider the cost of securing and tracking them. If your Help Desk has to spend even 15 minutes dealing with them, you’re on the losing side of the equation.

On the other hand, if your business is financial management, and your company handles millions of dollars over the course of a normal business day, you care a great deal about the security and integrity of those assets. If they’re lost, you’re done. Kaput. But how much will the countermeasures cost compared to the vulnerabilities you face?

That’s the basic idea, anyway. To me, as a computer geek interested in network security both at work and at home, it was fascinating. 5 minutes into it, I had to buy a copy of his book, I was that impressed.

Mr. Winkler signed autographs after he was done and stopped to chat with each person for a couple minutes. Interested in what they do and what interests them most about information security. In my case, I work for a government subcontractor. He wrote in mine “Do a good job so I don’t have to!” I cracked up on the spot.

If you ever get the chance to see him speak, go. Don’t miss it. Drink the Kool-Aid. At least go out and buy the book.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

100 years ago today, right now in fact, the Great Quake shook San Francisco. I found this story about the US Mint in San Francisco and the people who saved the United States from possible economic disaster on that fateful day.

[Found via]