Category: Reflection

I have a Jerry Pournelle story.

“We have an unusual request about this week’s security bulletins release. If you have the time can you talk to someone on the phone?” This was from my Waggener Edstrom liaison.

It was 2004 and I would get these requests often in my part time role as communications person for Microsoft’s Security Response Center. The PR team and I would weigh who the request came from, their audience, and several other factors in deciding who we would get on the phone with as opposed to responding in email. Not for spin or positioning purposes, (you can’t really spin a security vulnerability although many have tried. They tried and failed? No. They tried and died) but more use of time vs. how many people would be reached.

“Sure.” I said. “What’s the outlet?”

Waggener Edstrom has served as the major PR firm for Microsoft for such a long time. There’s a reason for that, they are whip smart and I knew that if they were asking for my phone time it was worth doing.

“It’s a gentleman who runs a fairly well-subscribed newsletter, he’s written for Byte and a lot of other publications back in the day. His questions are mostly technical about the attack vector, it seems like a good place to get any additional information out.”

It was a slow day for me, a Thursday as I recall and our monthly release had happened that Tuesday so most of the pressing outlets like CNN or the LAtimes/Boston Globe/NYT gamut or Wired or whatever had already had their calls with me, so I said sure let me set up a 30 minute block of time and give me five minutes prep for us to decide whether or not to do this or over email.

I stupidly never asked who the gentleman was who I would be talking to.

Ok prep for the call time. I’m in my office which back then was decorated in what my Wagg Ed support team referred to as “affluent freshman college dorm room” style. I had cool lava lamps and a projector with a liquid oil pattern cast on the wall, blacklights, a nice futon etc. Meetings all over the MSRC were sometimes held in my office just because. Once, our fearless leader kicked me out of my own office to have a meeting, but that was before we started pranking his office with greek architecture. I digress.

I picked up the phone for the prep, keep in mind my role here in my life was directly communicate guidance for Microsoft customers in regards to security threats and vulnerabilities and patches. We’re 60 seconds into the prep discussion when I finally open the newsletter and look at the web page and find out the caller is going to be

Jerry. Fucking. Pournelle.

*record scratch* *narrator voice* This is me, you may be wondering how I got here.

Well let’s start with The Mote in God’s Eye. The Niven and Pournelle team-up was formative for me because their voices were so interesting individually, but that story meshes so seamlessly (unlike say a Peter Straub/ Stephen King mashup which worked so brilliantly *because* of the slight tonal discord) that it made me seek out all of Pournelle’s other work. I had already consumed Niven’s.

“We’re taking this call” I blurted. “We are taking this fucking call. We are sooooo taking this call.”

I think I freaked the PR team out a little bit.

So now I’m 60 seconds away from speaking to Jerry. Fucking. Pournelle. In some random space in my life where his interests and my role collided and neither had anything to do with the fact I was a huge fan. I knew about his newsletter and website and his interest in computers and tech, I just had no idea *that* was the person I was going to talk to. And now it was my job.

Be cool man. Be cool.

Now I’m on the phone with him. He asks how I am and how my day is. I managed somehow to hold it together and chat like all this was perfectly normal but I didn’t trust myself to not screw it all up so I just said “before we get to your questions, if I may, your fiction has been a huge influence on me. I’m a fan and I’m a little weirded out that I’m talking to you”

I know that’s what I said, verbatim, because I had it typed in notepad to read from so I would not screw it up.

He laughed and spent like the next two minutes just sort of shooting the shit with me. Then he delved into his questions which were clearly from someone who wasn’t just a hobbyist, he understood the ins and outs of the threat and he wanted to articulate why applying the updates was important in the newsletter.

At one point I got bold. I said, “Well on the one hand the attacker could do X but on the gripping hand the patch does Y.”

He stopped me. “If I were to use that, there would be three elements, with the “on the gripping hand” being always the third. That’s how moties work. It helps see past a binary choice!”

I still use this today. I say things often like so: “On the one hand X, on the other hand Y. But on the Gripping hand….” and when it gets spotted by people for the reference I usually get an email or nod to the effect “I got what ya did there” and when people are confused I get to explain it and introduce them to The Mote in God’s Eye.

I have Jerry to thank for that. The call was simple and perfunctory, we got his questions answered, he was gracious and kind with my fanboyism. But that moment where he took an element of such a foundational influence that he and Niven had written and riffed it as “No no no say it like this, and people will get it” was one of those moments in my life where I was flummoxed and not at the same time, and won’t ever forget.

We never spoke again, I cannot claim to have known him or that we were Facebook friends or anything. I doubt he would have even recalled the conversation within a month or two of it just because he probably had lots of conversations like that with people.

I am just one more of millions affected by his work in some way saying, thanks Jerry. Thanks for the stories.

Have you had a break today?

About two weeks ago I went back into the hospital. This time it was not a life-threatening issue, the shunt in my liver had become occluded which caused a minor upper gastrointestinal bleed. Luckily I had been warned the symptoms and signs 2 years ago when I was really sick and they installed it so it was caught immediately. I wasn’t even admitted into the ICU, they performed a quick minor surgery to clear the occlusion, observed me for 48 hours to make sure it worked, then sent me on my way.

Hospital stays suck, even when you are in MCU not ICU. The last time I was there was for three weeks and for 90% of it I was under a strict “no Internet” policy.

So for this stay I decided to do the same thing even though it wasn’t mandatory.

Our bodies are capable of an infinite amount of energy along a timeline that ends when we die. However, we cannot just create infinite amounts of energy at once or on demand. During my last stay, it was explained to me that despite my protests that being on the Internet and being able to interact would help me mentally, physically that would divert energy my body needed to heal.

After I left the hospital (I’m fine by the way, everything got fixed up and I feel pretty good!) I felt so good mentally I decided to continue restricting my Internet both for my mental health as well as I ended up getting busy with work.

I am happy to report it was great.

I love the ability to interact with anyone at any time of day online. I love Twitter’s capabilities and Facebook and reading the web and basically just sucking up communication like a vacuum. But at the same time, it comes at an energy cost and a mental health one. There’s only so many new terrible Trump stories you can read each day and stay happy.

I turned off my phone this past weekend and took Basil to the beach. It was marvelous. I’m slowly learning you don’t have to respond to every text, read every headline, respond to every Facebook post, or feel bad about just unplugging for a bit.

I would not say I’m shutting down on Internet usage or that it is bad. But except for short bursts like live snarking something on Twitter or engaging in conversations on Facebook I do plan to spend less time reading the Internet and more time watching a TV show (American Gods is astoundingly good) and writing than feeling like I have to be up to speed on all things at all times.

I’m just closing the aperture a little bit more and trying to be more focused on being online.

I did not mean to worry anyone, rest assured that I have some protocols in place since I live alone that if anything happens certain people get “activated” for help if I need it.

In the meantime, I highly recommend the occasional Internet break. Try to go a couple of days of it. I found that I stressed less, was more relaxed and had a lot more creative thoughts than just sitting down and making hashtag jokes on Twitter. :>


Let’s talk about the fourth amendment.

Now to be upfront, I am not a lawyer. That sentence is usually followed by a “but, I blah blah blah might as well be” bullshit justification for being an expert, even if on the layman level.

I am not a constitutional law expert either.

I’m a weird bird. I consume trial transcripts. There’s probably half a dozen cases where I have read every brief, motion transcript or filing. US v Microsoft is probably where I got the bug. Such a fascinating case from end to end.


That doesn’t make me a lawyer.

I do, however, have opinions on the law. I also where possible, repeat guidance that learned lawyers have stated publicly.

With that, let us examine the 4th amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

This is a good amendment, and very important. It essentially is the protection in our society from the government simply looking at whatever it wants to on a fishing expedition and it has served us well to date.

But then 9/11.

I’ve stated it before, but there is an old joke that a liberal is simply a conservative that has never been mugged. On 9/11 our entire country got mugged. To put it succinctly: We lost our collective minds.

Shrouded in cries of “Never forget” and “Protect the homeland” we quite simply did shame to our founding fathers by agreeing to give up many of the things that make America unique. All in the interests of thinking we could prevent another 9/11 from happening.

We can’t. Another major terrorist attack will happen on American soil. If you count domestic terrorism, many already have. It is not a “solve for zero” problem. The safest society in the world is one that chains everyone in the country to their beds 24/7. The greatest victory Osama Bin Laden achieved is our own violation of our principles. Every shoe taken off at an airport, every email read by the NSA, every time a TSA agent violates someone’s body in the interests of the greater good of security is in the final analysis, a victory for those who attacked us. They terrorized us.

So why does this bring me to the 4th amendment?

The word “Warrant”.

We put a lot of stock in that word. I don’t know an American who would not say “well if they had a warrant then…”

But here’s the thing. It’s trivial to get one. It is the linchpin of the entire 4th amendment. It is the very due process we trust. That a judge considered the arguments and, having weighed the impact and risks, issued the command that bypasses the amendment.

How many warrants are denied? Less and less I fear. I am concerned that in the post 9/11 world no judge wants to be the one to deny a warrant if the word terrorism is involved. I am concerned the process of obtaining a warrant, often on very tight timelines, has been so diluted as to make the 4th amendment itself useless.

Let us consider a hypothetical. I tweet to Edward Snowden. He replies. Because his twitter stream is followed closely by law enforcement, and I am a well-known member of the security industry, how difficult would it be on the part of a judge to issue a warrant to search my computers and phone due to Snowden’s status as a fugitive whose actions have (according to those pleading the warrant) materially affected the security of the United States?

I see struggles like this all the time. Thanks to the Patriot act one need simply find some way to invoke terrorism in the application for a warrant and many safeguards that might give a judge or controlling authority pause simply melt away.

This problem is not related to political administrations. It existed under Bush, Obama, and now Trump.

Armor is only as strong as its weakest point. In the case of the 4th amendment, the strongest link is now made of brittle, poorly cast metal.


(It is of course non-canon. Eternal thanks to Brenda Cooper, Wil Wheaton, Christina Diddle, and Yesenia Cisneros for story notes and feedback. Yes it’s a little blasphemous, if you are sensitive to that, don’t bother reading. You will have no one to blame but yourself.)


Teaching Toward Bethlehem



The air was crisp and cold, and smelled strongly of smoke. To be more clear, it wasn’t the smoke smell of destruction nor the smoke of a pipe of herb. It was hearth fire smoke. Wood smoke. A smell of comfort, and Nathanial Boren inhaled it deeply and held it inside of him for a moment. He exhaled and watched his breath float away into the night sky, imagining for a moment it was smoke itself. It was a childhood play act that even at the ripe old age of fifty-one he indulged in.

His wife was fast asleep in the settlement behind him, his children were grown and had hearth fires of their own. Nights like this he could stand out near the perimeter, see the stars in the winter night air and just be. For a moment he wished he’d poured a dram of the spiced cider on the stove before he went out, then decided that tiny imperfection made the night somehow better.

Sometimes just being meant feeling a slight pang of regret.

The grassy hills that rolled over the landscape were dusted in a bit of light frost and the dark outline of the old city structure could just be made out against the far mountains under the light of the full moon. The perimeter was set up to prevent raids from there, but the grand old Vancouver skyline still stood proud if inert. Nathanial’s reverie was broken by Old Messy goat, the cranky one, who bleated from her position at the center of the flock and that’s when little Rhiannon scared the living shit out of him.

“Caught ya dreaming!” she shouted, slapping him on the backside.

After the shock wore off “Sweet Christ child, you’ll give me a heart attack!”

Rhiannon cocked her head, dark skin and eyes bundled up in her little parka, “You weren’t tending the flock. I get spanked for that.”

All of nine years old, his granddaughter was already a taskmaster at settlement responsibilities, and yes, he had been musing instead of watching the herd. For a moment he was doubly grateful for not having the cider, as she startled him so badly he would have either dashed it on himself or on her.

“Fair point. What are you doing out here? The perimeter isn’t safe at night.”

A shrug, just like her mother would, “Yeah well you guys say that, but no one has come from the city since, you know, I was born.” She put a sarcastic emphasis on the last word and Nathanial’s heart soared because that part, that part was just like his wife.

“All right little one, look and tell me what you see.”

Rhiannon dutifully gazed over the perimeter fence line for a moment. Nathanial could see her mind working on the proper response. She was analytical. Businesslike. It hurt somewhat to realize she was not whimsical, and that this world had by necessity made her that way.

“There’s no tracks in the frost, no one has been in the crossfire zone. Old Messy is cranky because none of the males want to fuck her.” She said plainly.

“Hey! Language!”

Rhiannon rolled her eyes, “Owpaw I know all about fucking. That’s how we get more goats and babies.”

“Language! I should speak to your mother about her teachings.”

Again with the rolled eyes. “You guys tell me how important words are, then spend a lot of time telling me not to say them.”

Nathanial took a deep breath for a blistery comeback and exhaled slowly instead. The air still smelled of burning wood and comfort.

“Yes. Yes, sometimes we do that. We’re not perfect. But while your eyes caught much, you missed my point. Look at the sky.”

She cast her eyes up at the stars then shrugged again like her mother.

“It’s clear. No glowy fog or clouds tonight.”

“But do you see that star?” he pointed.

“The brighter one?”

“Yes, that one.” He said.

This time there wasn’t a shrug. Now, she was listening.

“I see it.”

“That star is Polaris. It is the northern star. It’s one of the brighter stars in the night sky. It is said that Polaris guided the shepherds.”

And yet again with the eye rolling. Nathanial wanted for a moment to chastise her but Rhiannon wasn’t one to be silenced or interrupted.

“Oh not the Christmas story again.”

“It’s winter little one, and the time when we used to mark this time with great celebration.”

She pulled the hood of her winter coat back, her dander up now, which again gave Nathanial great delight. Rhiannon had a sharp mind. He had much hope for this young generation.

“Stupid! Owpaw no one tends flocks in the field in desert winter. And wise men don’t need a star to guide them. The whole story is dumb. Why would a god fuck some woman—“


“—to create another version of himself to die but not really die so everyone here could hurt people then feel bad and feel ok about it later because they think they get to live forever?”

Rhiannon’s blood was up he could see, Nathanial changed his mind and wished for a moment he had that cider. He looked back up at the sky.

“I suppose you’re right.”

Rhiannon blinked, unsure of herself. He shifted slightly and put his arm around her.

“I like the story though,” he said, “It reminds me of generosity. It reminds me of sacrifice. It reminds me of the fact even if we worship something, that doesn’t mean it didn’t face struggle too. All we have in the end, are our stories. Isn’t the message of the Christ worth that? Forget the main parts, think about the message. Of love and sharing it. Doing something to help everyone. Yes, the story is a myth but all stories are. We can take the lessons even if we don’t buy the story right?”

Rhiannon hugged her grandfather tightly around his waist. “No. It’s silly. But I think I know what you mean?”

He did. They stood like that, enjoying the cold for a moment.

“There’s a hymn I like,” he said.

“The holy night one?”

“It’s fun to sing isn’t it?”

“I guess,” she said.

“There’s a line about fall on your knees, hear the angel voices.”

“That’s dumb. You can’t fight back on your knees.”

“That’s not entirely true, but also not the point,” Nathanial said. He didn’t feel the need to further it.

There was a moment again with just the two hugging each other in the cold. The goat bleated.

“I think you’re right about Old Messy,” He said.

“Yeah. I am I think,” came the small reply.

“Go to bed little one.”

Rhiannon hugged him tight and breathed in deeply. Nathanial realized for a moment that perhaps he had imparted some wisdom. He also realized that having an impact on her was a life experience few and far between. Rhiannon let him go and trudged off but then turned for a moment.

“Owpaw, what is the point though? Why even bother with these people you made if you’re a god? Make them think they can be bad but feel bad and be forgiven?”

Nathanial smiled. “I don’t know. Maybe people should try harder to avoid being bad.”

Rhiannon frowned. “Wait. This is you telling me again I can’t tease Nat Jr? Owpaw he is so lame.” Again she emphasized the last word with sarcasm.

Mission accomplished, her brother might experience a little less torment.

“Merry Christmas, Rhiannon.” It was an instruction not a wish.

And she rolled her eyes, shuffled back to her cabin. Nathanial took a deep breath of the night air, and watched the flock.


Announcing Stepto and Friends LIVE at the Triple Door Seattle

I’m crazy excited to announce my very first headliner show at The Triple Door in Seattle April 10, 2016: “Stepto and Friends: Just Let Me Finish This Level.”

As many of you know I had a health scare over the summer when I fell into a coma. Thankfully I recovered and that recovery is going well. While in the hospital I had the chance to reflect on a lot of things, note some unique aspects of being in a bed for three weeks with a “NO INTERNET” rule in effect, and tied together some lessons learned. All of this has combined into this show, which is a mixture of readings, stand up comedy, and music. Molly Lewis and Marian Call will each be providing musical sets, and the Seth Boyer will join me as musical accompaniment to a dramedic (it’s a word!*) reading of my experiences.

It takes place on the final night of Emerald City Comic Con, 7:30pm April 10th (doors open at 6:00PM) at one of my favorite venues in all of Seattle, The Triple Door. I’m excited, nervous, excited, scared, and excited to bring this unique show to you and I hope you all buy tickets and join me there.

Or I swear I will coma again.


*It’s not a word.