Marilyn's Cursory Cogitations

The articles below are just a few collected, and chronically arranged, ruminations on a wide range of topics, published with occasional irregularity. This collection of ruminations is just getting started for now, but now that writing and publishing on this site is becoming a more active personal trend, so might the appearance here of these brief missives as well.

Life is sometimes however filled with "interesting times", times that have the ability to generate all manner of distractions and diversions from one's primary aspirations, goals and even life purposes. Sometimes such distractions and diversions intrude to the extent that just trying to maintain course becomes an aspiration in itself. However, since beginning active content production for this site, its sense of direct and immediate fulfillment seems likely to become infectious, thereby producing new missives here.

Marilyn Perry

 

America - What Simon & Garfunkel were looking for ...

As Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has taken up the 1968 song  "America", by Simon & Garfunkel, as the slogan for his Presidential campaign - - -

That high taxation, heavy government regulation, administrative bureaucrats doling out "free stuff" paid for by a pixie dust magical wealthy "other", forced civilian disarmament, notion of the United States, is not the America I was thinking of when I first heard the song - America - by Simon & Garfunkel while I was still a child in 1968.

Hearing the lyrics, "to hitch-hike from Saginaw", while living not too far from Saginaw, and thinking about the lyric  - - -

"They've all come to look for America"

was an America I thought I already had, and an America I dreamed back then was one that my childhood peers and I could and would nurture from the conceptions of fairness, equality, and most importantly of freedom, I thought we had in our visions of America's  future.

In 1968's "Age of Aquarius", I was hoping that my brother wouldn't get drafted and sent to Vietnam to possibly die for - I don't know what - with an M16 machine-gun in his hand. In 1968, I was being acculturated to believe that we wanted government out of our lives. In 1968 we wore peace symbols around our necks, spent our weekends at rock music concerts listening to political anthem songs about our ideals, and discussing the related issues of the day on our way home. In 1968, just as I hope I can today, I quite seriously thought I didn't have to "look for America". In 1968, I thought of great importance for our future was the protection of an America we already stood for back then and hopefully still believe in and stand for today.

In response to the Bernie Sanders Presidential campaign ad, Art Garfunkel has expressed a much more dystopian view, but a view in line with my own long term perceptions of his song. In response to the Sanders campain ad Garfunkel said recently that, “We never knew who we were. We’re still working out what Alexander Hamilton was working out. How do we fuse in becoming United States of America and not southern planters who want states’ rights? In the very Constitution, we’re working out the fusion of the nation. We’re still doing it.”

No matter who takes the oath of office as U.S. President on January 20, 2017, I'll be wondering whether the rest of us Americans will have to squint to "look for America" as the "America" seems to be getting squeezed out of what remains of the fabric of the once supposedly inalienable rights, comprised of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among other things, I already thought was, and is supposed to be, America.

 

Having Seen A Rainbow

I saw a rainbow this afternoon.
It was a huge rainbow.
The rainbow I saw was bright and wide, and very nearby.

On one side of the afternoon sky, a dark and swiftly moving cloud was approaching from the east. At the same time, the afternoon sun shown brightly across the sky, out of the west, from beneath the clouds. The sunbeams radiated across the sky from the west, at an angle that brightly lit the dark cloud above and the sky below it. Although the afternoon was sunny where I stood, the large rain droplets falling from the approaching cloud were clearly visible. There may have even been bits of sleet among the early winter day's raindrops.

As the sunlight created a prism against the falling rain in the not too far away distance, the sun’s rays produced a large, intense, rainbow with a wide rainbow stripe. The rainbow had perfect colors and perfectly even stripes. The outer edges of the rainbow were a glowing purple, as though the rainbow was on fire with a purple gas flame halo. A little later a brief winter shower arrived, as heavy raindrops fell at an angle against a breeze, accompanied by a mixture of melting sleet. The rain, the sleet, the breeze, and the sharply brisk seaside air, were just as bracing and invigorating as the sun and rain in the distance that created the rainbow to the afternoon sky just a little while before them.

Although the science of rainbows is quite simple, and easily replicated; seeing a huge rainbow in the sky is an experience that seems almost like a form of magic when observed. Happiness sustaining wonders like this rainbow await, within the moments of every day of every human life, available for free to anyone who takes the time to notice them.

learning … revelation … altruism … enlightenment

Marilyn Perry

Diversions and Distractions

More often that one might expect, the age old adage, “the best laid plans …” applies quite directly to trying to live life as a human being on our planet earth, and more importantly to trying to make progress with work on one’s primary life aspirations. It often seems as though one’s very life plans must include provisions for the seemingly inevitable intrusions that nearly invariably arise to lead one’s plans astray. One can only hope as well that such distractions and diversions don’t also lead such aspirations asunder. There comes a threshold however, beyond which it becomes clear that life, and one’s associated time left to live this wonderful human life that we each have, are limited resources that must be marshaled expediently, before one’s passing decades expire.

Recently though, just when it seemed like the resources were in place for me to focus efforts on a major project, a set of immense, unexpected, diversions arose. Despite my every effort to minimize the extent of their impositions, these recent distractions have intruded formidably on my time and my attention. One of the few saving graces is that it has been possible, although at considerable expenditure of time and effort, to obtain reasonably beneficial outcomes with regard to disposing of at least some of these recent intrusions, at least thus far. However, as much as wishing otherwise would be wonderful, these distractions don’t appear as yet to have concluded their disconcerting intrusions. Thankfully, time will tell though, and with hoping for the best of hard won fortunes, the moments will arrive when all these recent distractions and diversions will have finally subsided. What these various recent diversions and distractions have brought forth as well, are reminders of the level of fortitude that is required: to refocus, to redouble, to constantly reenergize; and remain steadfast, no matter how tempestuous or torrential external disturbances might be or might become.

One source of strength though, are my many valued memories of times when it has been possible to focus on a major project with gratifying results. It is a joy to have times in life when life’s minuscule tasks can be completed without interfering with one primary aspirations, whether immediate aspirations or longer term aspirations. Sometimes though, constructing that sort of scaffolding to bolster day to day living requires an ethereal form of intangible wealth in and of itself.

With well crafted plans, with daily rhythms that encompass both the seeming mundane aspects of human life, task by task, and the loftiest of activities as well, it will hopefully be possible for milestones of accomplishment to approach at some soon to arrive juncture. Meanwhile, forging ahead daily has been an important watchword, helping me to raise the level of life’s music above the level of life’s background noises.

Marilyn Perry

Summer’s End

reflections on the looming equinox, the harbinger of gray skies

Some parts of America experience nearly endless summer, year in and year out, like southern California, southern Nevada, and Florida. However, it’s a remarkable experience as well, to live in a place where the unofficial end of summer is almost always accompanied by the arrival of seasonal transformations. Some years, including this one, nature’s clock seems to have uncanny accuracy.

This year, just as Labor Day weekend has arrived, the picture book clear blue skies that have provided magnificent backdrops for activities like outdoor photography this summer have been replaced, at least during the Labor Day weekend, by overcast gray skies, an occasional drizzle, and still enjoyable daytime temperatures in the lower seventies rather than the upper eighty degree days that preceded them in July and August. There is something almost comforting and cozy about the change though, even if the changing season means that plans for activities like some remaining summer photography projects will have to be squeezed into whatever sunny days nature has left in store before the equinox. It’s ironic that the relaxing sensation of the late summer’s drizzle is counterbalanced by a sense of urgency that there is limited time left to complete projects that are only possible beneath a searing summer sun and its accompanying cloudless deep blue skies.

In addition to the drizzle, it is intensely apparent that the sun isn’t rising as early in the morning and it isn’t setting as late in the evening anymore either. Even the angle of the sun, its compass direction at any given time of day, has begun to change rapidly each day, as the days grow shorter and shorter toward the solar equinox. The shortening days also give rise to surprise that summer has seemed to slip by in a flash, in between plans for activities that are impossible once the changing seasons have changed the weather with them.

It’s astonishing as well, that all these annual changes, the seasonal metamorphoses, are the product of divine astronomical forces of amazingly enormous proportion. It never ceases to be mindboggling that the very existence of the seasons is the product of the confluence of astronomical factors that took billions of years to evolve. In that context, just to be a human being, alive now, seems like divine provenance in and of itself.

Because of billions of years of universal evolution, humanity exists, riding on the giant spaceship known as earth, a huge water covered rock, hurtling through outer space at nearly 67,000 mph. Every living being on the planet travels 580 million miles every year, even if standing still, while a passenger on the orbiting spaceship that is earth. But spaceship earth isn’t quite upright as it simultaneously spins on its tilted axis, without which the seasons wouldn’t exist, as every living thing on earth experiences them. There is something truly astonishing that so many aspects of earth’s existence are necessary to make the miraculous result possible that every human being experiences and grows to know throughout a lifetime as the seasons.

It seems like one aspect of living well though, is working well with the ever changing phenomenal qualities of nature’s seasonal rhythms, as though dancing in step with the solar system’s subsonic music. But as summer quickly slips away for now, to be absent for months behind the clouds that accompany autumn and winter’s shorter days, the enjoyment of it, and of its end, certainly does seem worth taking the time to appreciate, at least in thought for a moment, as nature shifts the rhythm of its celestial music, before hurrying back to work on everything that needs completing before the many months of cooler rainy days arrive, and they bring with them their own wondrous but very different qualities too, along with anticipation of summer’s return next year.

Marilyn Perry

Under Constant Attack

observations about web site trespass and intrusion assailants

Running web sites, even a personal web site such as this, provides detailed insights into one aspect of the extent and the pervasiveness of evil on planet earth. In this instance, the evil is the apparent constant assaults by would be intruders of various sorts on every one of the millions of web sites running all over planet earth. Even this modest personal web site is subject to a constant barrage of web site attackers, trying incessantly to break into it. One has to wonder what exactly all these web site assailants believe they’ll accomplish by breaking in, especially by breaking into a web site such as this. Such speculative questions are relevant because this web site isn’t a bank, a government, or a retailer, with personal customer or citizen information stored in its supporting database.

There seem to be various types of web site attackers though, with varying goals. Some of the attackers are pitiful spammers who mistakenly believe that their desired ability to advertise whatever junk they may be selling, on any and every web site in existence that doesn’t have appropriate security measures in place, would be of some potential financial benefit to them. The persistence of would be spam planting web site attackers implies that somebody somewhere must be generating financial revenue from such activities. Another set of web site assailants give the appearance of being pathetic dark net hooligans who try to break in everywhere they can, seemingly just for sport, most likely while they reside in mommy and daddy’s basement, where they remain slacker slobs living off parental largess. Some of the more organized web site attackers even appear to use automated robotic software tools that crawl the web looking for sites with lax security measures.

It is apparent from the nature of some of the web site attacks that some web site site assailants believe a given web site may be a good one for them to upload commercial spam advertising. With regard to this web site, such attackers couldn’t be more wrong. Their commercial solicitations would be useless on a site like this one. Nobody who actually views and reads this web site would be interested in the junk they are likely to have on offer. Secondly, if there were security holes in this web site where they could upload something such as comment spam, that spam would never make it through this site’s comment moderation queue in any event. Such spam attempts would be deleted instantly, long before they might have any ability to reach publication.

Based on the breadcrumb trails left by many web site attackers, they have at least some rudimentary knowledge of the various content manage systems (CMS) being used to deploy web sites. For example, some web site attackers look for Wordpress vulnerabilities on this web site, apparently because they haven’t taken the time to notice that this web site is implemented with the Drupal CMS. Other attackers realize that this is a Drupal web site and plan their attack points accordingly. One such frequent attack point is the web address /node/add, in an apparent attempt to test basic web site security regarding the scope of users who have the ability to create new content. When that form of probing appears in the access logs, it is met with an instant IP address ban. Even if the attacker changes IP address, an IP address ban at least puts the attacker on notice that they’ve been detected.

Meanwhile, there appear to be a variety of simple, basic, often relatively low tech measures web site administrators can employ to help keep hackers at a distance. Some of these measures are simple, but apparently aren’t used adequately by many web site managers. The first of these site protection measures must surely be frequent, at least daily, access log review. Manual access log review is a simple a nearly necessary human time and expense cost of having a web site visible to the entire planet on the world-wide-web. Web site owners with the resources and large volume traffic could surely build automated tools with heuristic algorithms that detect and repel various types of attempted intrusions, but fifteen minutes of manual access log review per day, can likely keep the majority of potential intruders at bay. It is amazing how easy it is to see the difference between the page navigation behaviors of real humans reading a web site, versus search engine bots, versus human site attackers, versus automated web site attack software robots.

Another form of security measure is to require real human intervention for certain types of processes. For example, this web site doesn’t allow public user registration. Instead, the site requires that a human being use the contact form to send a request for creation of a user account. This provides opportunity for contact and verification of human registration applicants before account creation. Even once the account is created, Drupal provides a highly granular system of access permissions based on roles, so that users have only the least level of access to the system required to make their permitted use of the system possible. In conduction with human verified user account setup, the comments on a site like this are only visible to users that are logged in with an account. As a result, even if a comment spammer ever gained temporary access, none of their spam comments would be publicly visible in any event.

At an equally fundamental level, it seems essential in the internet era to use a software tool, such as the Drupal CMS, that is developed and maintained by technologists who are conscious of and concerned about security as a high priority. Security has to be implemented as fundamentally as the system’s bedrock design level. Following security recommendations published by the community that surrounds a CMS also seems essential.

Of similar importance, there isn’t any such thing as universally invulnerable software. Consequently, it is essential that software such as a CMS platform be maintained constantly, refined when potential vulnerabilities are noticed or detected by its developers, long before web site attackers have any opportunity to try to exploit them. Checking for and installing the latest Drupal CMS core updates, and updates for all of its extension modules is a fundamental security measure. The Drupal CMS even provides automated tools that check for updates, and displays internal administrative warnings when components are out of date. The Drupal administrative systems have evolved to include an excellent suite of easy to use internal tools. Good web hosting services also provide important tools, even through front end site administration systems like cPanel.

Another essential security measure is frequent and regularly scheduled system backups. With backups, at least if a site is attacked, and the intruder gains access that results in site damage, the site can be restored to its “last known good state”, and the vulnerability patched to prevent future intrusions.

What is most notable, however, is that the endeavor of maintaining any web site in the internet era, from personal web sites to business and government sites, requires constant vigilance from potential web site intruders. The average person probably doesn’t realize that there is an ongoing war being waged throughout the internet, every nanosecond of every day, as every web site and every email server on earth is under constant attack. Given the nature of the internet, most often people running web sites are focused primarily on preventing intrusions, stopping the attackers, while aspects of society such a government seem largely lacking any real competency to address the legions of otherwise invisible enemies, real people in our midst, who are constantly trying to trespass into our virtual cyber sphere abodes, everyone’s email servers, everyone’s email accounts, and everyone’s web sites. It certainly would be entertaining if one day there were online sites with background information about such people, like there are about registered sex offenders, just to see them and know more about who they are and the motivations for their various types of web site attacks and intrusions.

Marilyn Perry

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