I helped break who Chicago police were spying on

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Kristiana Rae Colón, center with the red scarf, leads a “Brown Friday” protest in a Chicago shopping district. This reporter broke the news that Colón, daughter of an Alderman, likely had her phone surveilled by Chicago police trying to learn where the protest was headed. Photo credit: Bryant Cross.

This story of mine, published on the website Reader Supported News, first divulged the identity of protest organizer Kristiana Rae Colón, the likely target of police cellphone surveillance.

(Colón was the organizer of that day’s protests, told police as much, and police were later recorded asking one another whether they were receiving any information from the “girl” organizer’s phone.)

It served as my very quick education into the world of police surveillance technology. More stories on the subject will follow.

One’s work and one’s art

I definitely need art in my life to thrive. And I need non-art work, too. This is nothing new for anyone, I suspect. But I’m happy to be at the point where my weekend pursuits, in food, are both satisfying work and hella artful.

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Three Sisters Lentils, Mint Creek pork shoulder, Genesis squash and onions, Werp greens and edible flowers, at my restaurant, Cellar Door Provisions.

My weekday work too, in journalism and supporting whistleblowers, has both art and toil. But as yet, it’s decidedly less pretty to the eye.

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I’ve forgotten what this is exactly, but it seems like buckwheat fusilli, milk-poached garlic, a winter green pesto, root vegetables, pickled onion, raw chard, house paprika, and something shaved… Maybe the rare hard cheese?

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Genesis potatoes, shaved parsnip, parsnip butter (made in-house with Kilgus cream), fried Mint Creek egg, Werp greens

The past few months in photos, minus all the computers

Afraid to cook? You shouldn’t be.

Broccoli sautee

Broccoli in a wok. The key to the wok is crazy, crazy, jet-engine heat. But don’t worry about that for now. (Creative commons photo from Flickr’s anotherpintplease)

I recently heard someone say they did well following strict recipes—baking, for example—but that spontaneous cooking, without an exact recipe, frightened them. Maybe they tried it before and it didn’t work out so well, so they assumed it was some sort of magic they didn’t possess.

Couldn’t be further from the truth.

Last night, for fun, I typed up a response to that someone: a starter recipe for the recipe-less. You’re welcome. It’s three paragraphs. Because you’re trying to be a baller, read through it first. Then bring out to the counter all the stuff you’ll need. You don’t need to pre-measure; just get it in arm’s reach.

Bring some grapeseed (or canola or vegetable) oil to a shimmer at high heat in a shallow, heavy weight pan. I like cast iron, but use whatever. Sear some sliced extra firm tofu or chicken breast until it releases easily. Turn down the heat a bit if you’re getting much smoke from the fat. If you’re burning your food, add a tablespoon or two of liquid; it cools the pan. If you want, you can turn over the proteins and do the other side.. or don’t. Time is money.

Next, toss in some smallish green vegetables. Saute a minute or two to soften. Pump the heat back up to high for a few seconds to get the pan really sizzling again, then add stock: veg if you’re veg, chicken if you’re not. If you want to get fancy, add it slowly so you make sure you don’t cool the pan too much. You’re cooking off the stock’s water and leaving its flavor components behind, AKA “reducing.” Congrats. If your vegetables were leafy, cover the pan a couple minutes while reducing to let ’em wilt nicely.

To complete your five minute project, add the following rough measurements for every portion you think you’re making: 1-2 teaspoons of mustard and the same of white wine or vinegar—any vinegar but distilled white or balsamic.. Throw in a dash of salt and a pinch (teaspoon or less) of brown sugar or honey or real maple syrup.. unless you used honey mustard. Then don’t. Pepper just before serving; fresh ground is better but not necessary.

Of course, now that you have a recipe, it’s not a seat-of-your-pants experience.  But dissect its basic components and you can cook any number of proteins and vegetables. Mix it up. Vegetable is good. Vegetable + diced onion is better. Vegetable + onion + garlic is heavenly. That last combo works great with the white wine option, and you don’t even have to mince the garlic. Just crush up a clove or two with some sanitary, heavy thing, saute with everything else, and remove before serving because the flavor will come out in the pan.

Sooner or later you’ll be adding thyme sprigs (remove like the garlic), shitake mushrooms or fish sauce for umami, improvising sous vide with ziploc and a cooler, and picking fines herbs for the next day’s lunch after your wife goes to bed.

Roadblocks en route to the world’s thinnest watch

CT Blue_Sky_Watch_05.JPGChicagoan Jerry O’Leary, wearing the watch he designed and helped engineer—the world’s thinnest. His company is called Central Standard Timing. Photo by Zbigniew Bzdak, used with permission from Chicago Tribune.

A year ago, when I read news stories on the Kickstarter hardware phenomenon of the millimeter-thin watch, I latched onto the catchy company name and the care taken to design the font used on the watch’s curved face.

Little did I know, I’d write a little blurb about these cats and what they’ve gone through, for the Tribune’s Blue Sky project.

Jerry made the process sound grueling. I got the sense he wasn’t trying to dissuade competition, but truthfully discuss the work involved. Still, I probably would have made the same choices he did.

That is, if I knew how  to engineer electronics.

eBay entrepreneur could make the powerful and corrupt shiver

If the stories are saying what I think they are, one of the biggest barriers to doing important journalism—heavy security protecting your sources and research—will soon be less about cobbling together your own ragtag system and more about buying into a proven solution.

Let’s just hope they open the source code.

I’m excited about Greenwald and Omidyar’s new organization for its journalism potential, but even more excited about the fact that it’s getting into the “technology” business to produce tech for “new media.” That’s so incredibly vague, but I suspect it’ll be looking to fill the need for end-to-end-secure products that are easy enough for everyone to use.

For example, PGP (the widely used e-mail encryption scheme) works, and is fun for those who use it, but I posit that’s in part because it has such a small user base. It’s like you’re in a little club. And in fact, the not-insignificant setup work and learning curve can fuel a nice smug attitude with every use.

It shouldn’t be this way. If everyone encrypted their communication, corporations and governments wouldn’t be developing the huge profiles on us that they do. (If you don’t care about that, read this right now, then return if you’d like.) Lots of folks wish for the ability to evade the dragnet—and journalists NEED to—so I figured it was only a matter of time before someone capitalized on these gaps.

(Of course, PGP is only good so far as the NSA doesn’t have quantum computing, which it looks like they don’t at the moment…and so far as they don’t keylog everyone, or in particular, YOU. I hope First Look Media makes some software that detects and eludes keyloggers.)

What are the gaps as I see them? I already mentioned encrypted e-mail and keylogging. (OTR chat is pretty easy enough already.) To head off the potential fall of RSA, they could ramp up the development of elliptic curve cryptography. They could get into making whole-drive encryption systems that rely on both hardware and software-level encryption. I suspect they could develop software (free software as a loss-leader??) that helps folks pick strong, easy-to-remember passwords. They could use Poitras’ experience in mail drops and drive-wiping to create systems for that with less friction.

I don’t think they could compete with LastPass or 1Password. I don’t think they could compete with Freedom of the Press Foundation’s SecureDrop system for anonymous submissions. They could manufacture extremely cheap burner phones whose cases decompose in landfills when you toss ’em. If the battery were easier to disconnect, people would be more inclined to do that whenever they weren’t using it. No GPS transponder, obviously, but tower triangulation is a problem. I wonder if there’s software akin to TOR that could mask what towers your signal is going through. (hint hint)

Seriously, the opportunity for providing secure systems to journalists, in particular, is huge. After the past year’s disclosures, inkbloods are shaking in their boots.

In a few years, if journos like me are armed with the right tools, I suspect any sufficiently corrupt politician or corporate executive will be doing the same.