Myself, Brett, and Jon recently went to DEFCON and completed the Badge Challenge put together by 1o57. Here is the entire adventure as we experienced it with all of the puzzles, their solutions, and the steps to solve them. Understand that this document contains MASSIVE spoilers so if you do not want to ruin it for yourself please stop reading now.
Alright, lets go!
Here’s one of the fundamental rules of programming.
You’re at the end of your day, you’ve gotten a lot of stuff done, and you have one more thing to get right before the feature is complete, and you’re searching for the answer, trying all kinds of ideas, thoroughly confused, not wanting to get up until it’s done, just slogging away and not getting it. Finally, you give up after a couple of hours of spinning your wheels, eat some dinner, watch a little basketball, have a glass of wine, read a little and crash for the night. Get up the next morning, make some coffee, read the news, roll up your sleeves and start over with the problem.
Five minutes later it’s done. Happens every damned time. The problem isn’t intractable. It’s just as difficult as all the other problems you solved the previous day. It just came after your mind shut down. So you might as well quit work a couple of hours earlier.
Programming isn’t like digging trenches. The amount of work you get done is not directly proportional to the amount of time you work. Also believe it or not your mind is solving problems while you sleep. That’s why the answer is apparent first thing in the morning. Even after 30 years of programming, I’m still learning this lesson.
“Today, TSA’s screening policies are based in theatrics. They are typical, bureaucratic responses to failed security policies meant to assuage the concerns of the traveling public.” Translation? TSA doesn’t know what it’s doing, but is trying to put on a good show to keep the traveling public from catching on. The report, entitled, "A Decade Later: A Call for TSA Reform" sharply criticized the agency, accusing it of incompetent management. Former DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner dropped this bomb, "The ability of TSA screeners to stop prohibited items from being carried through the sterile areas of the airports fared no better than the performance of screeners prior to September 11, 2001."
Frankly, the professional experience I have had with TSA has frightened me. Once, when approaching screening for a flight on official FBI business, I showed my badge as I had done for decades in order to bypass screening. (You can be envious, but remember, I was one less person in line.) I was asked for my form which showed that I was armed. I was unarmed on this flight because my ultimate destination was a foreign country. I was told, “Then you have to be screened.” This logic startled me, so I asked, “If I tell you I have a high-powered weapon, you will let me bypass screening, but if I tell you I’m unarmed, then I have to be screened?” The answer? “Yes. Exactly.” Another time, I was bypassing screening (again on official FBI business) with my .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, and a TSA officer noticed the clip of my pocket knife. “You can’t bring a knife on board,” he said. I looked at him incredulously and asked, “The semi-automatic pistol is okay, but you don’t trust me with a knife?” His response was equal parts predictable and frightening, “But knives are not allowed on the planes.”
The report goes on to state that the virtual strip search screening machines are a failure in that they cannot detect the type of explosives used by the “underwear bomber” or even a pistol used as a TSA’s own real-world test of the machines. Yet TSA has spent approximately $60 billion since 2002 and now has over 65,000 employees, more than the Department of State, more than the Department of Energy, more than the Department of Labor, more than the Department of Education, more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development - combined. TSA has become, according to the report, “an enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy more concerned with……consolidating power.”"
Recently, while on vacation in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and visiting family, we stayed at my sister’s house. She was kind enough to let us have her place while she found accommodations elsewhere. She moved in to this place herself not too long ago and was proud to point out to us the brand new, gigantic, flat-panel television and full Cable TV package she purchased slightly before our arrival. She felt that our four year old daughter Beatrix would especially get a kick over having so many kids channels to watch on such a big screen.
Now, we don’t watch what someone my age would consider a traditional television at home. We do own one — a 15 year old CRT model that resides in our third floor office loft. That said it is very rarely turned on. We don’t subscribe to Cable TV. It is connected to a not much newer DVD player. The digital converter and antenna we have for it have not been hooked up for a couple of years. Beatrix will occasionally remember it when we are up there and shove a DVD in the player to watch. That is the extent of its use.
When we want to watch things like movies and shows, we do so using streaming services on a three generation old iMac 20 inch that resides in our library/den. This means mostly Netflix unless available for streaming otherwise (Hulu, Amazon, iTunes, direct from the show’s website, etc.). One can safely assume that if it is not available via online streaming then we likely have not watched it.
I say all of this to set up the fact that Beatrix has little idea of how traditional TV works and seeing her first real exposure to it was enlightening to say the least.
The first time came after attempting to walk to a parade a few blocks away and getting caught in one of the area’s famous torrential downpour rainstorms and having to turn back. Wet from head to toe and cold, we figured finding something fun for Beatrix to watch on that great big screen would lessen Beatrix’s disappointment at missing the parade. After scrolling through what seemed like a hundred options in the built-in program guide, I finally found a channel that had something on that would hold her interest — Shrek.
I turn to that, Beatrix approves, and we watch. Then, a few minutes later, a commercial comes on. The volume difference is jarring to say the least. I would safely guess it is fifty percent louder than the show. I hurriedly reach for the remote and turn it down…
“Why did you turn the movie off, Daddy?”, Beatrix worriedly asks, as if she has done something wrong and is being punished by having her entertainment interrupted. She thinks that’s what I was doing by rushing for the remote.
“I didn’t turn it off, honey. This is just a commercial. I was turning the volume down because it was so loud. Shrek will come back on in a few minutes” I say.
“Did it break?”, she asks. It does sometimes happen at home that Flash or Silverlight implode, interrupt her show, and I have to fix it.
“No. It’s just a commercial.”
“What’s a commercial?”, she asks.
”It is like little shows where they tell you about other shows and toys and snacks.”, I explain.
“Well the TV people think you might like to know about this stuff.”
“This is boring! I want to watch Shrek.”
“I know, honey. It will be on in a bit. Just be patient.”
The show eventually comes back on. I reach for the remote to turn the volume back up. We can barely hear it now. The difference in volume between the show and the commercial is shocking and I don’t remember it being this bad when I did watch television regularly. Perhaps it is only like this on kids channels. I wouldn’t know.
Of course, not more than ten minutes later, the movie is once again interrupted by a round of commercials.
“Why did they stop the movie again?” Beatrix, asks. Thus leading to essentially the same conversation as before. She just does not understand why one would want to watch anything this way. It’s boring and frustrating. She makes it through the end of the movie but has little interest in watching more. She’d rather play. The television is never turned on again during our stay.
A few days later and on our way back home, after a long day of driving, we arrive at a hotel. We check in, unpack the car of our essentials, make it to the room, and settle in for the night. There was a television in the room with some select Cable TV stations and Beatrix asked if she could watch a show. Sure, I said, so I turned it on, and flipped it to what appeared to be a kids channel. There was a commercial on.
“Is this a show?”, she asked.
“No. This is a commercial, we have to wait for the show to come on.”
I now realize, in hindsight, that she did not understand that all televisions work this way. She thought it was only the one in my sister’s place that was “broken” and “boring”. In her mind, this was a new TV and thus should work differently.
Then, a commercial for The Secret World of Arrietty comes on.
“This! I want to watch this!”, Beatrix exclaims.
“We can’t honey. It’s not out yet. It’s just a commercial.”, I say. She seems more confused so I try an analogy.
“You know when we go to a movie theater, and they show you previews of movies that are not out yet before the real movie? It’s like that.”
“Oh.”, she resigns. Not sure she gets this but I think the television executives and I have finally worn down her curious resolve.
When the commercials are over, it is some live action teen show. She is not impressed.
“Can I choose?”, Beatrix asks. She’s still confused. She thinks this is like home where one can choose from a selection of things to watch. A well organized list of suggestions and options with clear box cover shots of all of her favorites. I have to explain again that it does not work that way on television. That we have to watch whatever is on and, if there is nothing you want to watch that is on then you just have to turn it off. Which we do.
I then do what I should have simply done in the first place. I hook up the iPad to the free hotel wifi and hand it to her. She fires up the Netflix app, chooses a show, and she is happy.
This, she gets. This makes sense.
Is it acceptable to say that I love my doctoral thesis advisor? Because I really do. (She is also the head of the doctoral program, and one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed it so much is because of her attitude which pervades the entire program.)
I emailed her tonight to say that I had been making progress but not enough to think I’ll be done in time for graduation this year, and how I’m in constant fear that if I miss the deadline again I’ll end up like someone I knew who took firteen years to finish his Ph.D dissertation.
On the other hand, I had lunch today with a good friend who told me I was nuts for trying to get this done while The Wife is in school given that I don’t have any requirement to finish it this year other than “I’d like to.”
This friend is usually very reticent about giving his opinion, which is probably why I’ve thought about his words all day. He said:
Why are you doing this to yourself? Put it aside and do want you have to do to take care of your son and your job while your wife is in school, and then you can focus on your thesis much more easily once she is done.
I shared all these thoughts with my advisor. I emailed her around 7:30 p.m. She emailed me back about three hours later:
My goal is for those who enter the program to complete it to meet the conclusion of their own deep desire. If it takes more time, then it simply does. I say lay aside the anxiety about it and work at it as you are able. It is my experience that it does get done somehow. If it happens you fit it into the timeframe for this year—that is for graduation this June 1, then it will be done, if it spills over and is done this summer, by Aug. 31, it will have been done in this academic year. If not, then it will be done within the next year 2012-2013.
In other words, keep at it, without anxiety. There are enough reasons always for what stands in the way. Some more pronounced than others…those who finish will be those who keep at it. I doubt it takes 15 years. It may take six or nine more months…it may come together sooner.
Breathe, meditate, walk in the moonlight, recognize what is is, and trust the Spirit.
Can you even imagine a more balanced message of “keep at it, but don’t stress out over it, and you’ll be done when you are done”? Because I can’t.
I may print this out and put it under my pillow.
I wish I could tattoo the last paragraph on the inside of my eyelids.