: Ponderous Ponderer and a Work in Progress


TrueCrypt Hacked - Alternatives

7/19/2014 11:25:00 AM Posted by e.s. kohen No comments

TrueCrypt Hacked - Alternatives

e.s. kohen


1. Introduction
2. Alternatives So Far
2.1. BitLocker
2.2. Luks/DM-Crypt/FreeOTFE

1. Introduction

To be clear, my definition of "hacked," is a little different than most people's.  So, when I say TrueCrypt has been "hacked," I have gotten several of my friends upset!  "Hack"  = "Copy/Paste".  It is the "old-school" form of "code reuse," where we hacked parts of code from one program/version, and pasted it into another.

"Hi-Jacking" software is pretty much the same thing, but where you take the ENTIRE code base, reuse it, add your own functionality, and redistribute it as the original.

It goes without saying that the encryption algorithms used by TrueCrypt in the past are "robust," "Enterprise", and even "Military" grade.  There were, though, questions regarding legacy code, dead code, etc, that hadn't been audited in a while.

TrueCrypt has become compromised because people are distributing unofficial "new" and "old" versions of TrueCrypt based off of previous source code branches.  The published SHA Hashes no longer match these new releases, (a SHA Hash is a kind of security token that was used to validate previous versions that were audited).

This is especially signficant, for me, in the instances of people using rooted Android operating systems on mobile phones and tablets with customized TrueCrypt support, (custom APK installation packages, including Cerberus, (which has not been affected to my knowledge)).

What this means:  people, (organizations and even governments), are able to modify the old code, inject whatever logic they want, and distribute it on "alternative" download sites since the originial source code is now unmaintained.

This lures users into a "false sense of security," believing that the version of TrueCrypt that they have is the "Latest and Greatest," even though these releases have the very high potential of having malware and spyware injected.

2. Alternatives So Far

What can I say?  TrueCrypt was awesome.  Its features including file containers, hidden volumes, portability, etc, are very hard to find in the market.

2.1 BitLocker

I have been experimenting with this for a couple of weeks.  It should go without saying that this appears to be an absurd alternative, prima facie, in view of portability, Android devices, Linux, etc, but I had to try to see if I could find a solution--especially given its integration with the TPM, (Trusted Platform Module).

So, BitLocker "out of the box," secures your drive--if it is removed from the host computer.  And, you have to use a boot pin, to help ensure it is secured even if there is access to the Host Computer.

All of that being said, there is a reliance on Windows, and Microsoft making sense--for once.

Which of course ...  So, I updated device drivers, on the System partition.  Now, Windows requires the full recovery key, not just the pin, to update these drivers, and System Startup.  Quite the hassle.  More-so, if these drivers are new security drivers, (and unsigned), like the encryption drivers used by DM-Crypt, (FreeOTFE), etc.

Ruled Out Because: Reliance on Windows O.S., Microsoft Design Decisions, No Support by third parties, (Linux/Android/OSX), and needlessly complex for users, (the process for enabling a Boot Pin, (which is a very common Use Case), requires all sorts of non-intuitive security policy hacks.

2.2. Luks / DM-Crypt / FreeOTFE

Unsigned drivers are plaguing this solution on Windows.  That, and I also had BitLocker running ... So, its fair to say I set myself up for failure on this one.

I have been able to integrate DM-Crypt with the TPM on Linux Systems.  But I have not managed to get this to work with FreeOTFE yet.

Will hopefully update sometime in the future!


Meta Security & Theosophy

7/04/2014 10:30:00 AM Posted by e.s. kohen , , , No comments

Meta Security & Theosophy

e.s. kohen


1. When Technical Debates Become Religious
2. Analogy of Absurdity: Arguing Against a Literal Six Day Creation
3. Analogy of Absurdity: Arguing Against the Significance of Meta Data

1. Where Technical Debates Become Religious

Slashdot vs, the NSA and Meta Data has yet another community mash-up regarding Meta Data, "Tin Foil Hat" conspiracies, and even worse--accusations of conspiracies that intend to keep the public "Stupid."

From a Philosophical point of view--namely Epistemology, (even Memetics), for that matter, the International Community has completely failed to "Grok" the idea that "Meta" is a completely relative term.

When any scientific debate is abruptly thrown into the context of the Politics or Theology, the entire planet seems to devolve into frivolous, Contentious Rhetoric.

What "Meta" means to one person is certainly not what "Meta" means to another.

People are using completely different "measures" of what "Meta" is, and as a result this debate is made absurd--full of Equivocation and Straw Man logical Fallacies.

This means that our entire debate over Nations stockpiling "Meta Data" is as just as absurd as arguing against the supposed theological argument that the Earth was created in six "Days."  Just like the term "Meta," people are using completely different "measures" for what a "Day" is, which is what makes this argument completely absurd and ultimately pointless.

There is a distinction between what people believe by tradition, and what the foundations of those beliefs are.  The supposed "Creationist's" argument of a literal 6 day creation perfectly illustrates how the fundamental meaning of things is incredibly distorted by political and theological "Rhetoric."

2. Analogy of Absurdity: Arguing Against a Literal Six Day Creation

The Six Day argument is absurd, because it generalizes theists, and unapologetically misrepresents fundamental beliefs, misrepresenting even the definition of the word "Day":

  1. Find any "Book of Genesis Theist," who doesn't believe that Genesis states that the Sun and the Moon were created on or around the Fourth Day;
  2. Find any " 'Book of Genesis' Theist" that asserts Scripture contains some literal definition of day that doesn't somehow involve the Sun; and 
  3. Find any " 'Book of Genesis' Theist" who doesn't believe that the Book of Genesis indicates that the Earth was present before the Sun and the Moon.
  4. Or Ask, "How were the first three days measured, if the Sun and Moon only became present on the Fourth day, does Scripture say that God had a stop watch?  Or, is it reasonable to make metaphorical and analogous inferences from that passage?"
Theists usually have a very real distinction between what they believe by "Tradition," and what they accept as the "Quantifiable Record."  In this case, Theists tend to say, "Yes, the Bible says such and such, but I believe this, but other people believe that over there ..."

3. Analogy of Absurdity: Arguing Against the Significance of Meta Data

In the same way, we have Equivocated in an absurdly religious way what "Meta Data" is, and is not.  Data about Data is still Data.  Information about Information is still Information.  How often I called someone, what time of day, and for what reasons, is just as important to people as the content of those conversations.

When information about information is collected by Governments around the world, we have evidence of the true value and significance of "Meta Data."

It is okay to say before a political audience that Meta Data is not significant, and there shouldn't be worry about its collection because this belief is a personal opinion, or even part of a political agenda--we can accept the integrity of those statements.

But what is unacceptable is to say is: "When it comes down to it, Meta Data is just not at all that interesting or valuable to people from a privacy or technical point of view--that is why so many nations spend trillions of dollars on collecting this data."

In the end, it just doesn't make sense--especially if there are other alternatives.



11/18/2013 10:38:00 PM Posted by kohen contacts No comments

e.s. kohen

If Wisdom was before all,
and through wisdom all things are ordered,
then Wisdom is the true verdict of morality in view of eternity.

For that which was before time, by nature, transcends all things temporal.

As that which is above,
Wisdom exposes what is below–
vapors that rise fleetingly before the Sun.


Inferential Programing Languages

4/28/2013 02:02:00 PM Posted by kohen contacts , , , No comments

Developer's Blog: 2013.04.28

The Next, (Last?), Generation of Programming Languages.
ed: 2013.04.28.02

For the last 15 years, or so, I have been researching different syntactical patterns in ancient languages, as well as programming languages; modeling those patterns, and identifying where those patterns are utilized in order to create a proof of concept for a new generation of programming languages, or, at the very least, to inspire someone else to do so!  

The Research

1. Identification of the cognitive and computational processes, (both passive and active), undertaken to decrypt and interpret messages.
2. Identification of ontological/analytical views that would aid in the automated analysis and decryption of ancient and modern languages.


In industry jargon: 

The afore-mentioned research of crypto-linguistic analytics and processes was intended to enable the design of a system to translate and transform differing languages into others through the exclusive use of logical, deductive, inferences.

An Abstract Illustration of the Purpose

In the future, for an individual to communicate instantly with another who speaks a completely different language, those languages would have had to have evolved to such a point where a simple "publishing" of basic linguistic ideas, in a logical format, would hold the "key" for decrypting the entire language.

A Specific Problem

Modern computer science is plagued by "standards specifications", a singular, shared inefficiency, that crosses technical domains: software, networking, security, hardware, ...

Specifications are believed to be required--after all, how could compatibility exist without specifications?  This, so far is not specifically the problem.  The problem comes when specifications are "standardized." An organized body takes it upon themselves, or has been entrusted, to maintain a specific standard.

This organization then becomes the bottleneck for the maturation, and the communication of those specifications; organizing new standards bodies are naturally discouraged in order to ensure "interoperability" and "compatibility".

But What If?

What if there was a standard, that never needed updating?  What if there was a perfect standard?  By necessity, this standard would have already been completed, (how do you complete something already perfect), and by necessity, this standard would have to be universal, and timeless.  So, if there are advanced civilizations in the universe, they would, consequently, have access to the same "perfect standard" that we do.

So, does this standard exist?  Of course it does: Logical Inference.

The Outcome

So, what is the outcome of all of this analysis, modeling, and wall-staring-at? 

The outcome is the means to communicate all of the linguistic principals of a language in terms of logic. 

In this way, a logically valid programming language could be specified and transmitted in a purely logical format; the specification could be interpreted; a compiler for this language could be dynamically generated; and the program could be executed, (this would also enable the static analysis of a program before its ever ran and compiled locally).

Next Steps

Using the analytical patterns, syllogisms, and other meta-concepts uncovered during the analysis phase, (okay so 15 years is a bit long for an analysis phase; I'm a strategic developer!), it is necessary to create a compiler, (not that hard, right?), that interprets the logical representation of a programming language and either translates, or transforms that program and delegates its execution, or rather executes the intentions of that program, (should this translate into machine code, some variant of C, Java Byte Code, ILASM? Or, should this run as an interpreter at first?).


Need a code editor.  Evaluated several editors that have ways to define constructs, semantics, syntax, but none that meet the requirements, specifically: syllogism "form" validation.

Got to roll my own.  So, C++, C#, Java?  After a few proofs of concepts, C++ 11 can be used to create a cross platform editor. 

Having issues with compilers, (Microsoft's November 2012 C++ compiler implements some C++ 11 features, and the GNU C++ compiler is notoriously disingenuous in its "neutrality" when it comes to Microsoft platforms. 

Currently, I am compiling static libraries in C++ 11 using Code Blocks, MinGW, and using Visual Studio 2012 to implement a web front end.  MinGW's GCC compiler also has issues with cross-compiling x64.  There is a MinGW 64 bit release that I am trying to incorporate, and will take some more effort to incorporate into this process. 

Obviously, cross platform development feasibility is a very high priority to hopefully gain some assistance from the community, developing these toolsets.


Create some mobile app, using some of the APIs that I have created so far that can generate a little revenue to help cover some of the costs.  Perhaps an Android App utilize the Android C Native Development Kit. 

Dev Blog Initiation!

4/28/2013 02:01:00 PM Posted by kohen contacts , No comments
Not a diary, I promise!

The birth of a Dev Blog!  I am always working on many different projects, and am considering journaling some of the experiences and thoughts that I have, and have had, developing software!

So, to start off with, a very old project of mine, that I have recently made some progress in!


Mountain's Mist

2/16/2012 06:36:00 PM Posted by kohen contacts , No comments
Mountain's Mist
e.s. kohen
ed.2013.12.09.01 (Public Draft)

Fallen from the crumbling path
my feet are shackled by the mist;
every step is entombed within the fog of day.

Stumbling with my hands before me
My sight condemns me to darkness;
reflections of the Sun sear my eyes.

But what is this?
Night has fallen
and now I see!

My path revealed by the Moon
A transcendent host bears witness;
reverence inclines my head;

Wisdom unveiled in the night
Heaven and Earth are exposed;
darkness has given birth to truth.

Pyramid Peak, Olympic Peninsula - 2013.07.23

Written in the "Mystic" tradition of "The Dark Night of the Soul."

On July 23, 2011, I was on a mountain in the Olympic National Parkan embarrassingly small mountainIt ended up being a very difficult mountain for me to climb, and even more difficult to descend, because I ended up making a pretty simple mistake which left me two days without water.  This was despite a whole lot of water being "so close, but so far away," (long story ...).

I learned a lot of things up on that mountain, and still learning things from that experience when I think back.  Months after coming back, I finally ended up writing about this "contemplation" that "saturated" all my thoughts while I was trying to find water.



7/21/2009 12:00:00 AM Posted by kohen contacts , , No comments
e.s. kohen

ed.2012.12.03.03 (Draft II)

Sunlight bent and twisted in the sweltering heat above the desert city street. A cadence of voices coursed through the Bedouin market, punctuated by buses, cars and mopeds. An American man stopped in front of a small falafel stand. He looked at the man behind the counter, and to the walls inside; scripts, numbers, and certificates filled the empty spaces. The American gestured, pointing incomprehensibly, his words fumbling as he looked through the short glass partitions. He kept one hand low in front of his waist, holding a single red rose.

“Lo, Matbouka.” The man behind the stand corrected. He may have been a Bedouin, Arab, or Jew; the American had no way of knowing for sure. The man hoped that the American had some idea of what he wanted to eat. The American mumbled something in English and then something in what may have been Hebrew. Holding a stainless steel spoon, the man shook his head again, and a bubbling stream of Hebrew followed.  After seeing the blank look on the American’s face, he tried Arabic–both languages sounding the same to the American.

“Shakshouka,” the girl behind him helped. Her voice rang in his heart, and he turned towards her, nervously hiding the rose so she couldn't see. The man with the spoon nodded understanding and turned to fill the order, relieved to be over with the frustration; he wondered if the American knew how to count shekels. Her dark hair fluttered across her face in the desert breeze, and she smiled—trying to see what was behind his back.

Her dark eyes were ageless; harsh sculpted cheekbones, her eyes–her lips–were in perfect harmony, an oasis of trial and sorrow. Her eyes shattered everything she noticed, searching, always searching; her beauty raged against the piercing wisdom held in her gaze, her soul ensnared within brambles of passion and sorrow. The American tried to see everything.

He had first seen her a month before, in another awkward moment; she helped him pick the right bus when he realized he had been going in circles. He had never spoken to her with any ease, and couldn’t hope to. And so he had found what he knew she would understand; he offered her the rose, her lips reflecting the delicate silk held captive within its petals. Hope, then fear flashed in her eyes. She looked away from the American and to the man behind the stand—he had seen everything.

She turned and ran into the chaos of the Bedouin market, knowing he couldn't follow; she ran past the grocer stands, a cacophony of little shops, through a small parking lot, and then she stopped--breathing heavily against a wall of an electronics shop.  A tear nearly fell from her eye before she caught it in the palm of her hand.  She looked back into the market; her fingers tracing the crumbling stucco of the faded white wall.

She started school when she was four. Her home in Morocco was much like the homes where she lived in Israel, small, flat roofed, and painted in a sandy mud colored plaster. The inside floor was concrete covered with shiny white, lightly patterned linoleum, making it easy to sweep out the dirt and sand that got tracked in. On Fridays, before Shabbat, she would follow her mother around the house with a blue mop bucket; she always laughed when she got to throw water onto the floor without getting into trouble. Her mother’s hair would be pulled back showing her face, her eyes, her laughter.  And when all of the cooking and cleaning were over, they would light the candles and sing her favorite song.

She didn't remember her baby sister or when she had died, only that her father stopped coming home for Shabbat dinner. Then her mother left.  For years, she had sung their song alone. Eventually, friends of her father paid her way to Israel—she was fourteen.

She looked towards the market, and then to the voices coming down the street.  She wondered if her father had even asked for money, he certainly hadn’t needed it; he could could have paid for her passport back whenever he wanted.  She wiped her eyes, and stood straight, a cactus whose limbs were full of life, protected by hardened and forbidding leaves. She started towards a group of men coming down the street; one of the girls she knew was walking with them. The other girl held onto the upper arm of one of the men—evidently the wealthier of the group. When the girls reached each other, they gave each other a long hug and kissed the each other on the cheek.

The man handed the American his order, a pita filled with two poached eggs and tomato sauce, chips, a drink. To his surprise, the American correctly handed over twelve shekels without question. The American started walking towards the market, trying to stare through the clutter of shops, into the knots of clothing racks where the girl had disappeared.

The man set down his spoon and came out from behind the food stand to the American. He rubbed his fingers together; he wanted to sell something else. At first the American didn't understand. The man mentioned two numbers, the first the American understood—three hundred shekels. He took the rose from the American, threw it in the street, and then mentioned the number again and smiled—that lurid smile that leaves no room for interpretation. The man looked at the American, and considered again. He proposed a different number, but the American didn't understand; the man pulled a slip of paper from his pocket, and wrote a different number—twenty-five thousand shekels: the price for the girl’s passport, the American understood. Sure he was American, but he didn’t have that kind of money–she wouldn’t understand.

“Very good deal,” the man said in broken English, pointing to the rose. The American smiled politely, pointed to his wrist, at a watch that wasn't there, and walked away as though he hadn't understood.

Laughing with her friend, the girl chose the man who looked to be kinder than the rest. At first, he had wrapped his arm around her shoulders; she winced, and with a reassuring smile she moved his hand down to the middle of her back.

As the two girls and the group of men turned off the busy road into a neighborhood, she saw the American again. She knew she couldn’t try to leave with him; there was no telling what would happen to the girls left behind—he wouldn't understand.



7/14/2009 12:00:00 AM Posted by kohen contacts , , No comments
e.s. kohen
ed.2013.12.03.02 (Public Draft)

Heavy tattered curtains smothered the living room window; a heavy gust slammed the screen door against the mountain cabin. Hiding from the lightning, a small boy huddled in the corner, wondering when the daylight would be taken by the storm. I'm not afraid of the lightning, he tried.  He closed his eyes at the thunder and then faded into nothingness as his page was thrown away. 

A black, cold iron wood stove stood isolated in its corner; a small ash bucket and a spilled wood cradle spotted the bare wooden floor. A young man watched from his stool, peering between the curtains with a rifle in his hand. What will run here from the storm, he wondered.  He slid a round into the rifle's chamber, turned, and then closed the bolt.  As he waited for what was to come, lightning tore through the mountain top, sundering soul from body—a page torn in half; the clouds crumpled, and then he was gone.

A few framed oil paintings, among a dozen unfinished, hung on the cabin's only interior wall which separated the bedroom from the kitchen. The doorway to the kitchen opened to small stacks of dishes—pots on plates, a few glass perched on top. An elderly man leaned over the stove and lifted the cast iron frying pan, for a moment surprised by its weight; grease spattered his forearm as lightning flashed through the kitchen window. He leaned over the sink and closed the curtains, shutting the storm away; the eggs slid into the bacon which had curled up along the side. It will pass, he told himself. He shook his breakfast to the middle of the pan and set it down again, wondering at a wine glass perched perilously on top of a breakfast bowl—inside of last night's bean pan.  He chose a coffee mug sitting on top of a chipped ceramic plate still covered with steak sauce and grease. Bacon popped, and eggs hardened under speckles of black pepper and salt. Lightening tore through the sky; thunder rolled over the mountain; dishes rattled in the wake.  The screen door slammed against the vacant home.

Outside of the cabin, his orange poncho contrasted glaringly against the grey weather. His hood pulled in the wind as he tried to look into the kitchen window; steam rose fogging the square fitted glass panes of the dull green mountain cabin. Black, freshly dropped shale stretched in a path around the cabin; the little rocks crunched and compressed beneath his bulky rubber boots. Two water pipes ran from the house, one pipe reached to a drain further downhill along the back of the cabin, the other along the shale path to the water pump. Electrical wiring had been laced and drooped from the water pump, to a tree, to a tall wooden post, to a small shed, and then to a collection of chained down batteries; several neatly wound chords were tacked to another post and drooped to the solar panels on the roof.  Bursts of wind slung ropes of rain from the cedars; sheets of water poured down on heavily mulched lines of mint. For a moment, he turned his head towards the wind, his short greying beard and wild hair collecting mist into small beads of water.

At the doorsteps, he raised his large thickened knuckles to knock on the metal frame of the screen door--but the screen door bounced out, slammed against the frame, and then bounced out in the wind. His hand caught the door, and he walked up three small steps. The smell of bacon and eggs turned him towards the kitchen where a cast iron pan popped softly; grease dotted around the pan as he took it off the burner. Whose place is this? He wondered out loud.  In a moment, his concern faded, and without any more hesitation, he began looking for a clean plate.

Lightning flashed through the windows. I wonder if there is a storm cellar, he thought absently as he braced for the thunder. He felt his form shift, his consciousness starting to dissolve. Wait! Don't I have a choice? To take shelter and endure this storm? Don't I have the right to live and overcome--even when your pleasure turns your eyes somewhere else? He asked the hand he could not see.

The woman moved a hand to her brow, blocking the sun glare reflecting from her desk; her left hand spun a pen between her fingers--a trick while she flipped the page corners of her journal. She sighed, tied the journal's clasp over the pages, and pushed her chair away. Her chair slid with a groan across the wooden floor. Sunlight from the beach poured through the tall white curtains blowing in the breeze.  She stepped out onto the balcony and winced for a moment, a cool breeze, a cloud punctuating the afternoon sun. Her bare feet slapped against the smooth wooden planks until she reached the wide wooden rail where she set her journal.  Supporting her weight with the palms of her hands, she pushed herself onto a well worn rail.  With her legs stretched out, she leaned back against a small white, round column. She tucked her felt tipped pen behind her ear, and ran her fingers through her tousled blond hair.  Blue ocean waves charged against beach front sand castles--fortified against the waves and the storm a short distance offshore.

Could you have a story, if I don't write it? She wondered.

Perhaps my story would naturally follow my desire--the peace and the power of the mountains.  He replied.

Then, it will be your cabin.

But this really isn't my story if you write it, he retorted. If I make this cabin my home, will it be because it is what you have written, or because it is something that I have taken? Whose will, will it be a part of?

Why is it so necessary that your will must be separate from mine?  She challenged.  How could you ever know that you truly wrote your own story?  Gazing at the storm, she considered his plea.  She bit her lip, and hopped of the rail, unwinding the clasp of her journal:

The man reached into the pile of dishes, and pulled out a white spotted, blue metal bowl with chunks of chili hardened along the bottom, perhaps the cleanest in the pile. He flung the bits into the trash with a large wooden spoon and scooped the eggs and bacon into his bowl—he kept the wooden stirring spoon.

He carried his breakfast to the front room, the screen door still banging every so often; he set the bowl on a dresser, tied the screen door shut, and locked the front door closed. He lifted his wet poncho over his head and onto the door hook.  Drops of water spilled onto the wooden floor from his hood; he took his breakfast and sat on the bed.  He picked up an entire fried egg with his spoon and bit it whole; hot orange egg yolk dripped onto his beard.  Whose story am I in now, and who is the author?

He reached over to the bed-side table, and took a small paper pad and a stubby charcoal pencil. With his spoon in one hand, and the pencil stub in the other, he slowly chewed another egg while he stared at the first blank page that he could find. And then, he began to write:

A frail, imprisoned, man listened from within his cell, under a barred and open window; outside, the fishermen quietly set their nets before the dawn, and the river rolled gently along its banks. Hurried hands slid sheaves of paper and a couple of pens under the cell's heavy wooden door.  The man turned at the noise and ran to the door, his trembling gnarled fingers grabbing in compulsion. With the new paper and pens in his hands, he sat with his back to the wall.  What provocation should I expose?  What will incite the people to rise and confront each other?  A rat ran across the stone floor of the candlelit cell, and the morning air coolly washed his fatigue away. In candlelight, in the coolness of the morning, he wrote--a story of wealth, of presumption, the comfort of a selfish ruler.

The sun had risen, and his his hand was aching from writing; he watched where the rat had ran under his cot. He tried to run his fingers through his long dark matted hair. He gazed at the pages on his lap and considered the images, the ocean, the storm, a woman of wealth.  He frowned, then tore the pages in half; two crumpled balls of paper danced off the cobbled floor and then into the darkness under his cot. In silence, he looked and considered a blank, new page.  With a well practiced flourish, he picked up his pen and began to write once more:

The storm clouds had fled; a man in an orange poncho left the cabin before the dawn; a well worn, now familiar path led him through the mountain woods. As he straightened some stray tangles in his beard, he gazed at the fading morning stars. Then, with a fish stringer hung from his waders, a fishing pole in his hand, and a few extra lures stuck to the brim of his cap, he turned and walked into a stream.


Be'er Sheva Burning

1/07/2009 12:00:00 AM Posted by kohen contacts , , No comments
Be'er Sheva Burning
e.s. kohen


No, a two room apartment does not mean a two bedroom apartment. What it really means is an itty-bitty living room—dining room—kitchen—bathroom crammed right up next to a small bedroom that has no door. It means incredibly hot autumn days and freezing cold nights. It means paper towels taped over a hole in the front window that had all of the insulation necessary to keep small rabid kittens from crawling in at night.

It couldn’t have been midnight as I laid on my bed, watching my laptop screen light up half of the city of Be’er Sheva, somewhere in the Negev desert in Israel. It would shut itself off eventually, but of course that magic moment of blissful darkness wouldn’t happen until I was half frustrated out of my mind.

The shutters covering my bedroom window were tightly shut for fear of things that go bump in the night. But don’t get me wrong, even if my neighbors didn't occasionally launch random rodent-wanna-be-cats at my apartment, I still would want that window closed; my upstairs neighbors were divinely inspired to throw their post-rotted delectables out their window into a three foot walkway between a short concrete wall and  my wonderful accommodations. So, considering the aroma of rotting hygiene products, the former contents of a very active garbage can, and the occasional kitten carcass strewn about, I decided to keep that particular window closed.

I should have known not to answer the door in the middle of the night.  However, when someone is hammering on your door, yelling in Hebrew, then Arabic, in the middle of the night, something might just be amiss enough to investigate.

No one was there when I opened the door. After examining a carving knife just thrown out one of the windows above me, I proceeded to the other bottom floor apartment to see how much of reality I had lost touch of. I tossed the knife at what I think was a cat, (or a rather large and crusty rat), and started trying to decipher the myriad of curses being kindly exchanged between downstairs and upstairs neighbors.

Only God really knows what would happen if there was peace in the Middle East; I can see everyone killing themselves instead, and it would probably involve teeth. The downstairs neighbors were Jewish, (though the “real" religious Jews resented them). They were Hebrew at any rate, secular college kids, and living together even though they weren’t married. The Arabs upstairs redefined domestic abuse for me in ways I never knew possible. I could never tell who was getting the worse end of it. I mean, she could really holler, but was a horrible aim when she threw knives. He was the strong silent type. So, to say this situation was a little explosive would be totally insufficient.

The house was on fire.

I don’t have a clue what it was oozing down the side of the house–grease, liquid cat carcass, sewage, I didn’t really care. Just the same old, same old—except it was dripping down onto some lights bolted onto the house. Arabs above me, Jews all around me. All I could really decipher in the chaos of Hebrew and Arabic was that they didn't think I should be using the water hose to put out an electrical fire.

That’s when I noticed it. Someone had stolen the really nice long water hose that I had just bought and put this cracked and crumbling tube of malevolent irony in its place. I sprayed everything–especially the thorn bush. I slammed my door, laid in bed, and softly recited the curses the firemen started shouting when they arrived.