The difference 2 words make

 

 

 

For the past nearly 10 years, I've been patiently waiting for a single event to happen. In November 2003, a ton of my personal belongings walked out the door of my apartment. I was told to forget about them forever. That the government would find a way to keep them, destroy them, or auction them.

I made it my personal goal to get that equipment back. I didn't have a lot of resources to fight that battle, and I still don't. Lawyers cost tons of money, far more than the equipment could ever be worth. But what walked out that day wasn't just a pile of equipment. It was 100% of my personal data I had ever collected, EVER, in the time I had computers. In that collection is floppy disks, hard drives, zip disks, DAT tapes, basically everything I had ever done from the time I first laid hands on a keyboard (or video camera, as they took all my VHS-C and SVHS tapes with raw footage on them too). I never really shot analog, so every photo I had ever taken, from my Polaroid PDC 640 onward, gone. I think I even have webcam shots, and pictures from our school's Sony Mavica in this pile of computers. Tons of scanned photos that were taken by others, from my first flatbed scanner.

Logs from some of the first BBSes I ever connected to. Some of the first programs I ever wrote.

And what they told me on that November day, is that all of this was gone forever. Even the stuff I wrote the week before. Back then we didn't have a cloud like you kids have nowadays. We had a garden hose and a sprinkler, and we got our rainbows that way, and we liked it… But seriously. If you woke up and someone said "all your stuff is stolen. We know where it is, but you'll never see it again. You need to let go and start over…."

Sure, you're thinking – why didn't you back it up? I did. On all the media that went out the door with it. DVD-RW, gone. DAT backups? gone. If it plugged into the wall, or stored a magnetic charge, it was fair game. They took my dreamcast games, for crying out loud.

So for years, I've been bugging the FBI any way I know how to find out where my belongings are, so I can go back and get them. For years, I'd get bounced around. I'd get referred to people who couldn't help. Irritated, I filed a FOIA/PA request, hoping to find any information about the whereabouts of my belongings (among other things). I was dismayed to find no information about the whereabouts of my belongings in the files.

But obviously it triggered something. I filed the request in July of 2012, and the response was (after a month of research time), well… literally stating that my FBI file was larger than the Bible. I got several CDROMs, which had interesting information (including the fact that they unsuccessfully continued to attempt to indict me for other crimes (I also did not commit) until 2009 with a standing grand jury. Yes, they had continued to fight to prosecute me for over 6 years afterward.). But nothing at all about the seizure except some notes they took during the raid.

I got my last CD from them in late December of 2012. In February 2013, I get a very upset call from Becky. "An FBI agent just left me a voicemail, he's looking for *YOU AND ME!* He didn't say why.". Obviously I immediately backed up a copy of everything I had offsite, then grabbed my phone and called the agent back, expecting the worst. … "I have some items we're looking to return to you. I need you to fill out some forms."

I don't have to tell you at this point my jaw just about hit the floor.

He went on to tell me about all these computers they found in a warehouse. Ones that belonged to me, from a case in 2003. I told him where to send the paperwork.

I get the letters a bit later, and my heart sank. They were authorization to return my computers, CONDITIONAL ON MY CONSENT TO WIPE THE DRIVES.

Because what I really want is the kind of computer I could afford in 2003, with no data on it. Yeahhhhhh.

It had a 30 day deadline. I redlined the sections providing consent to wipe the drives, initialed them and signed them, and sent them to the agent.

He calls and explains policy, and procedure. Tells me how lucky I am since "they don't have to return anything, according to my plea bargain"

I start to grin. Here's the turning point in that conversation.

Me: "Actually, according to my plea bargain, there's only one computer you don't have to return. The rest, I'm constitutionally entitled to due process to receive."

Agent: "Plea bargains always contain a forfeiture clause. It states we can dispose of the seized items however we like. We just like to give the opportunity to return them."

Me: "Mine, you'll find, is worded differently. The change is subtle, but important. Can you pull mine up, and read the first sentence of the forfeiture clause to me?"

Agent: "'The defendant forfeits and otherwise waives any ownership right in all items involved in the acts alleged in the Bill of Information or Bill of Indictment.' Now see, I told you…"

Me: "Read Adam's Forfeiture clause. His is the boilerplate one. He had much bigger fish to fry than I did."

Agent: "*murmering to himself as he read it, tried to compare it*. 'I don't see the difference here.'."

Me: "I'll fax over a copy for your review, so you can see the difference. This was specifically negotiated, and I should be able to enforce it in court."

Agent: "I'm just trying to do my job, and close this case out."

Me: "I understand that, but I had a deal with the US government, and they can't try to get out of their obligations under the agreement just because they're inconvenient 10 years later. This is a written and enforceable contract, and this was an inseparable part of the deal. I can't go and un-serve probation, and the government can't change their mind after the fact"

Agent: "If you can fax me the highlighted sections, I'll run this by my boss."

Me: "No problem, I'm hitting send on the fax right now. Talk to you soon!"

My lawyer thought I was crazy for worrying about this, but I demanded a 2 word change in the plea bargain. The prosecutor was anxious to close the deal, and figured it was a very minor change, he assured me it 'only changed the wording, as I'd get back anything not used in the crime anyway'. I knew otherwise.

Adam's forfeiture language
Adam's forfeiture language
My forfeiture language
My forfeiture language

Suddenly, the change is clear, isn't it? The court only had the right to dispose of one computer – the laptop used to connect to the Lowe's network to check my email.

Small problem for them – They never bothered doing forensics on any of my data.

The FBI agent calls back a few days later, says this is all well and good, but there's over 40 hard drives and do I really expect them to do forensics on the drives to determine what was used in the crime and what wasn't? ABSOLUTELY. I offered to tell them the serial number of the laptop used to connect to the wifi, to let them wipe that, but they stated they couldn't just take my word for it.

Then, I said, they'd better dust off their copies of encase, and get to work. Because "it'd look stupid if you had to tell a judge you didn't want to honor my civil rights because it's really hard, and time consuming, but not important enough to do over the past 10 years we've had the data"

I didn't hear from them for a few months. I figured they were mulling their options.

…3 months later…

A very upset call from Fedex to my cell phone. Apparently I missed a dropoff. And the items were very, very large. And they were not pleased about that.

"Where are the items shipping from?"

"US Department of Justice, Western District of North Carolina…. Sounds like these are important, huh?"

"That's an understatement. My wife was at an appointment, she'll be home all day tomorrow. Can you reattempt delivery then?"

"Sure. Thanks for choosing FedEx!"

I got a call from Becky the next day. Apparently, the packages were too large for the FedEx delivery driver to carry himself. Becky had to help unload and carry them. Inside, were hundreds of pounds of equipment, paperwork, videotapes, CDs, … everything. Untouched.

Over the last month, I've been firing up machines one by one, and finding to my amazement that after a decade in storage, 100% of the data was intact and recoverable. I haven't gotten to the floppy disks yet, but my Kryoflux controller should make short work of that. Then my professional grade editing SVHS deck should make viewing the videotapes a snap.

I leave you with a celebratory posting of the oldest photo I can find of myself – this is from October of 2000, on my last day at Isiah.com before they went out of business. I looked like a dweeb back then.

paul n richard

Craft Herpes

So today Becky was trying to make some sensory bottles (as featured on MamaOT's blog here). I attempted to provide assistance in my usual ways, contributing useful advice like 'the easiest way to remove the label is WD-40, don't waste your time with scrubbers and soap, that won't work, you need a solvent'. And then material assistance in spraying them down with WD-40 outdoors. (insert regrets for opening my fat mouth here).

So when we got home tonight, Becky showed me an attempt at an earlier bottle showing the glue and glitter (or as it's known around here, "craft herpes" as it is easily spread, and tends to leave a very obvious visible sign of infection, and is incurable/irremovable). It had clumped together in this horrid goopy ball. As I'm in "problem solver" mode, rather than simply share the feeling of failure and reassure her that "next time it'll go right", I leapt into action doing what anyone would do, trying to break up the clump. After shaking it like a madman, I opened the lid and jammed my finger into the bottle.

Now, if you're sane, you're thinking "WHY IN GOD'S NAME DID YOU JAM YOUR FINGER INTO A WATER BOTTLE FULL OF GLITTER AND GLUE?". And if you know me, the answer is of course "Because Paul".

And when my finger ended up glued inside the neck of the bottle, because well, glue, I did what any normal person would do under the circumstances – panic and try to get my finger out by any means necessary. Which, because Paul, ends up meaning "covering myself, and my laptop in sticky glitter".

Then when trying to figure out the mystery of why ours was less awesome than the OT's bottles, I asked Becky to hand me the glue to make my own attempt. It too clumped (though I did not yet put in glitter). That's when I saw the glue – "Craft Glue"… "Waterproof"…. Water and hydrophobic glue don't mix. And of course, because I poured it out into the sink, there was a huge glob of hardening glue stuck to the sink. I managed to get a majority of that cleaned up, at least, and thankfully it didn't go down the drain.

"F* you, man"

This weekend, I was at Eastern Market, I was approached while enjoying an orange with my son and uncle by a guy. This happens all the time in eastern market, there's always someone circulating a petition for one reason or another.

So anyway, this guy interrupts our orange related bliss to talk about linking liquor licenses to not having expired food on the shelves, if the liquor store also sells food.

I stated I thought liquor licenses were stupid anyway, and didn't like how complicated they already are, and how they shouldn't pass laws making them more complex, and frankly, I don't understand why we require a special license to sell alcohol at all.

He agreed (!) saying that he didn't like liquor licenses either. So I asked him why he was making an already generally absurd process even more complex, especially since selling expired food is already a health department violation, and this really adds nothing but complexity to a process I already didn't support.

He explains how it would just force people to carry fresh food. I asked how, since they already were in violation of the law and they did not care. And again, that I didn't like that a special permit is required to sell alcohol.

So he started getting agitated with me about it, and I broke it down for him:

"You want me to support making a license I think should be abolished specifically because the rules surrounding them are already onerous and often absurd MORE COMPLICATED, in order to stop people who are violating the law by creating an additional law that they'd be breaking.". Then I just stare at him.

He walks past me and screams "F*** you, man" in front of me and my kid. I yelled "stay classy" as he walked away.

Am I missing something, or was that guy just crazy?

Autism screening paperwork

Now we've got the 16 page medical history form, and the 40 question social communication questionnaire out of the way, we only have the 12 page questionnaire, and the 100+ question child behavior checklist (actually visible at http://www.aseba.org/forms/preschoolcbcl.pdf ) to fill out before we can schedule the autism screening at Henry Ford's Autism center.

I don't know who they're testing at this point – him or us. I swear some of them are just to make us feel forgetful or senile. "At what age did your child first walk?". The questions are always thought provoking and remind us the ways he's different from other kids, as many of them besides the speech delay are subtle. But they're interesting nonetheless.

"If you come into a room and start talking to him without calling his name, does he usually look up and pay attention to you?" "no"

"Does he ever use odd phrases or say the same thing over and over in almost exactly the same way (either phrases that he hears other people use, or ones that he makes up)?" "yes"

"Does he ever have complicated movements of his whole body, such as spinning or repeatedly bouncing up and down" "yes" (they don't have a "basically constantly" option)

The master plan to be debt free is coming into place…

Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.
— Jim Rohn

Sometimes it's harder to be honest with yourself, than it is to be with others.

Ever since 18, when I began living independently, I learned a lot about putting myself in financial peril the hard way. Between numerous (likely actionable) missteps by employers when compensating me in my earlier years, misuse of credit, failure to plan ahead for my savings, failure to pay my bills timely, failure to stay organized, failure to file taxes timely and keep proper accountings of things, and unexpected expenses, I've put myself in quite a perilous place.

I make more myself than the average income of my neighborhood. But a few months ago, I was so far behind on my bills I was struggling to keep the lights on, and was only weeks from foreclosure. I didn't want to talk about it. I still don't. You write hardship letters to banks, and you don't know what to say. It's not like I lost an arm in a machine shop and lost my income, I made a ton of poor choices, poor organizational planning, and didn't keep track of what bills I was paying and when they were due. I was often a month behind on all my bills. I had only $500 in savings. When unexpected expenses came up, no way I was going further in debt, but I always thought "I can pay this, I have money in the bank!" and then a week later, I was all "oh crap, I forgot to pay DTE. That's why my power just went out.".. yeah.

2 years ago I locked all my revolving credit cards except a small $300 limit one for emergencies in a firesafe. I haven't touched them since. I cut my debts in half by focusing my efforts on paying those down as aggressively as possible. But I wasn't keeping track of things well, and more than a few times got more aggressive than I should have, and put money toward debt retirement I should have put toward normal bills. Obviously this was an untenable plan. I sat down and realized if I didn't put some serious math toward things and figure out a plan, I'd lose everything I worked for, and worst – continue to work my ass off and have nothing to show for it. I'd get massive bonuses, and dump them into paying bills.

I realized between jacked up penalty interest rates as high as 30% on balances as high as $5,000, and late fees, that my previously affordable plans had become a massive mess of unpayable penalties. I was getting kicked when I was down from every possible direction, and was liable every month for more than I made, despite the plans being affordable only months before. When you fail to pay one card, all the other cards take notice. They crank your limits down, they jack up your interest, and when you pay late on them, WHAM, 15% revolving interest just became 30%. Your budget to pay this card off in 3 years? No longer makes the monthly minimum payment anymore, which by the way  now has a $35 late fee.

After putting my head around every bill I was past due on, every revolving credit line I have, and the rare few collections I had, I realized I need a comprehensive plan. And then my car insurance doubled. WTF.

Today I got the fedwire transfer from a massive 401k loan (at 4something% interest). My first impulse when I saw the amount in my bank, combined with my biweekly paycheck, was to run to tijuana and say screw it all. But of course,  my debt will be 100% paid off in 5 years, and I'll save thousands in interest. The money I'm saving will be going directly into savings to cover rainy day funds, and my goal is to build up 3-6 months of pay in buffer money, as the financial folks always recommend.

I know 401k loans can be risky, but I read the risk carefully, and fully understand what I'm doing. By doing this, I've saved literally $500 a month in late fees, excessive interest, and other costs. That will obviously help when it comes to savings. I'm going to leverage the situation to try to refinance my horrid sub-prime 8.25% mortgage (shouldn't be hard, they said I could before if I were caught up in payments (as of tomorrow, I will be current to 4/1/2013 – I am current on mortgage payments on day 1 of the month for the first time in 3 years!) it's not like my debts disappeared, they just all went into one place). I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And esurance cut my insurance rates in half for the same coverage. So there's another $150 a month I can put toward savings. EXCELLENT.

And when I have a buffer, I can safely put all my bills on autopay, and never screw them up again.

Things are coming together nicely! For the first time in 3 years, I'm looking forward to opening quicken, my online banking, and I'm feeling better about answering numbers I don't recognize on my cell phone. My credit score dropped 200 points this year. It's at 550. I have a long ways to go, but I'll get there. I can do this.

Uh wow. The second CD from the FBI arrived today…

Ok, the second CD from the FBI arrived today. I just popped it into the drive and haven't read it yet.

When I guessed there were things beyond the original case in my file, I didn't quite expect the stuff I found.

There's an entire CD they've refused to provide based on a second grand jury investigation I didn't even realize happened.

I'm starting to figure out why they've stalled releasing my stuff back to me. Not that I think it's justified, but their odd responses back in 2005-2006 make more sense in context now. Ugh.

 

More to follow. Sorry it's vague, I haven't even read everything yet.

Recaptcha

So I was commenting on a special needs parent blog, and this new ugly recaptcha variant came up, where it's a crummy picture and a distorted word, and you need to read text from a slanty image of a sign on a building, or whatever. It's pretty awful. So I tried that a few times and gave up, and tried the audio version.

Recaptcha sound

I don't know if any of you can make that out, but I can't. I assume the majority can, or they wouldn't post it. I cannot hear the numbers over the noise at all.

Ultimately, Becky had to help me with a text version to get the comment to post. I think we're starting to hit a wall, where we're taking reverse turing tests so far they assume you have good sensory skills and can handle visual and auditory noise well, or you're not a human. That's a scary world for someone who doesn't.

"We have located approximately 2,170 pages and 3 videos or other media which are potentially responsive to your request"

So I did a big dump of Privacy Act requests to the various parts of government that seem interesting. The DHS, ICE, TSA, and Customs and Border Patrol, the US Postal Service, the FBI, and US Marshals service.

Of the agencies that responded, only the USMS and FBI had anything on me (which I kind of expected). The USMS sent me a packet of information, mostly biographical, detailing my arrest record specifically related to the 2003 Lowes case, and some really grainy mugshots and fingerprints. I'll admit, it was mostly just information I gave them as a condition of bond and probation, so it wasn't that interesting.

I thought the FBI was ignoring me. They didn't respond to my requests for status. Then, on August 15 (almost 2 months after I submitted the request), I finally received a response by postal mail.

 

"We have located approximately 2,170 pages and 3 videos or other media which are potentially responsive to your request. Per US DOJ regulations, .. there is a duplication fee of ten cents per page if you receive a paper copy. Releases are also available on CD upon request. Each CD contains approximately 500 pages per release. ..You will owe $252 for a paper copy with the 3 media CDs, or $95 (7 CDs at $15.00 less $10) to receive the release on CD. The actual charges could be less."

They go on to say I may reduce the scope of my request (which was simply for any record pertaining to me, and my social security number was given) and warn that I'll be in a medium queue because my request is 500-2500 pages.

Obviously, $95 is a great deal to learn that much about yourself. *I* couldn't write 2,170 pages about myself, so what they have should be pretty interesting.

Racism and misinformation

Today, while eating at one of my favorite restaurants, Idle Hour in Spring Lake, MI (I've literally been eating there since I was able to eat solid food) I found some printouts on the lazy susan on the middle of the table.

Naturally, I picked them up, and one set of them was filled with a printed email containing a racist "joke" about painting a golf caddy robot black and having it fail to show up for work, apply for welfare, or become president, or something along those lines. Someone has reproduced this "joke" here

It was prefaced with the words:

"IT MAY NOT BE POLITICALLY INCORRECT

BUT IT'S TRUE!"

I corrected this with my sharpie to then read:

"IT MAY NOT BE POLITICALLY INCORRECT RACIST

BUT ITS TRUE! FIXED THAT FOR YOU"

I think it's important to call a spade a spade, and let other people figure it out. You can't hide behind blatant racism with wimpy claims of "political correctness". This isn't someone saying "A black man" rather than "A man of African American decent". It's a straight up racist joke. If you think it's funny, that's fine, as long as you realize it's actually racist, not just some stupid jab in the culture wars.

I then set it back in its place. Found another email printout, this time some email forward talking about how Obama is screwing old people by putting a 3.8% sales tax on all home sales. I got the correct information from factcheck.org stating that there is such a tax, but you have to have more than $200k a year in income, and it taxed the sale in excess of $250k for single people, and $500k for married filing jointly, and only to the extent that it exceeded those values would it be taxed (a sale of a home for $501k would only have $38 in additional taxes, as long as the person had $200k in income that year, otherwise it'd still be not taxed). So I made massive corrections to that email and put it back as well.

I don't think the owners were involved, or possibly even aware. But I won't allow racism or disinformation to go unchallenged.

The personal website of Paul Timmins – Telecommunications expert, father.