We're No. 6 on Google!

Ah! My SEO skills are coming to the fore: We've risen to the lofty heights of 6th place on Google for the search phrase.... wait for it.... wait for it some more.... I don't want to go to church.

What an achievement!

Two Links

I've been having fun adding blog links to my Google Reader lately, so when a new post comes in, I know about it.

Have a peek at these two blogs (I've been given permission by both to link to them - thanks, guys!):

  • Stephen's brother Paul and his wife Alison are having fun adding an extension to their house. Follow their progress here.
  • Friends who used to live in Japan but have moved back to California have created an interesting model of Okazaki Castle (the castle that was only a few miles from where we used to live before moving to Nishinomiya).

Pop-up Ads Can Land You in Jail

Maybe you thought the law was an ass, but did you know it was a technically-incompetent buffoon ass? Read the unbelievable story of Julie Amero and you will see what I mean.... And I promise you, you will want to make sure your anti-adware / spyware software is up-to-date.

(I use the free Windows Defender and Spyware Blaster in addition to our paid-for security software suite. If you often visit new - and unknown - sites, you should consider using Sandboxie, a program that allows you to run your browser - or, indeed, any program - in a separate environment, so that even if you go to a site that can infect your machine with malicious stuff, it will all be erased when you close the browser session.)

This text is taken from the Windows Secrets newsletter. You can also read more about Julie's case on Julie Amero's husband's blog here.

Meet Julie Amero, substitute teacher

There's a good chance that you've already heard something about Julie. She's perhaps better known as the Connecticut substitute schoolteacher who's been convicted of "child endangerment." She now faces a sentence of up to 40 years in prison because porn pop-ups appeared on a school computer.

For background on the case, you can read articles from the New York Times, MSNBC, or SecurityFocus.

Let me begin by saying that I'm biased when it comes to Julie's innocence. I'm doing my best to spread the word about her case, and have offered my technical skills to support her defense. I have access to some technical experts who are reviewing the trial transcripts and computer forensic evidence. I can't point to a public reference to support all of my positions yet, so you'll just have to take my word, for the time being.

There are many points I could make about what's wrong with her case. But I'll stick with my core competency and just point out some of the technical flaws.

Flawed technology condemns an educator

The key issues were set in motion before Julie ever arrived to substitute-teach on the day in October 2004 that the pop-ups occurred. The school district had allowed its Web-filtering software support contract to expire, preventing the software from receiving updates. The computer in question was running Windows 98, and the browser in use was IE 6.

According to evidence analysis performed by Alex Shipp, an independent malware researcher, the antivirus software was a trial version of Cheyenne Antivirus (CA). That product had been discontinued by Computer Associates on Mar. 17, 2004. It appears that CA issued a last courtesy update on June 30. Julie taught the class on Oct. 19. The computer had no antispyware software.

In other words, this computer had almost no protection and an unsecurable operating system. This is the machine Julie was given to use.

On the day in question, the regular teacher was there before class to log Julie into the computer. Substitutes didn't have their own accounts, and were ordered not to log out or shut down the computer. Julie left briefly and, when she returned, the regular teacher was gone. She found students, some of whom didn't even belong in the upcoming class, Web surfing on the teacher's computer.

Experts now analyzing the hard-drive image have confirmed that the computer had been infected with adware days before Julie's arrival. Unfortunately, in this case, that means that when a student tried to visit a hairstyle Web site, he or she was instead redirected to a different site that had adult products advertised. When Julie tried to close the site down, this started a pop-up cascade.

One thing I should mention about Julie: She's a total "computerphobe." She can perform basic computing functions, but that's about it.

So what did she do when she couldn't get rid of the pop-ups? She turned the screen away from the students. It was at the front of the room, where the students would have had to be essentially at the teacher's desk in order to see. She did her best to get rid of the images without making it obvious to the students that something was wrong. If a student approached, she reportedly chased them away.

During a break, Julie went for technical help to get rid of the pop-ups, which reappeared as fast as she tried to close them, but she received no help. No one would return to the classroom with her. She was told not to worry about it. However, she was worried about it, and it turns out she had reason to worry — she was later arrested for "child endangerment."

Legal system fails pop-up victim

When law enforcement became involved, sanity should have prevailed. Instead, the technical flubs continued, and the case sped downhill. A detective was assigned to take a forensic image of the computer and perform a technical analysis.

Let me briefly tell you what I know about taking a proper forensic image of a computer that will be involved in a criminal case. Keep in mind that I'm not a forensics expert; these standards are just common knowledge in the computer security field.

If you're going to image a drive for evidence, you have to use special write-blocking hardware that helps take a sector-by-sector image of the entire hard drive, including the "empty" space. The image is then hashed so that any tampering will be evident, and you always work from copies.

Typically, only software tools with support from existing case law are used. Otherwise, questions can arise over the soundness of the tools and techniques. The imaging tools that have case law behind them are EnCase and the Unix dd utility.

The detective in this case took an "image" of the hard drive with Norton Ghost. Norton Ghost is a tool used to back up a computer's hard drive in order to restore it to a known state after people have modified the configuration. It is often used on training or lab machines. There is nothing wrong with Ghost for what it does, but it is not a forensic tool.

So what did the detective use to examine the "image"? He used a program called ComputerCOP Pro. It appears that the program displays a version of the Internet Explorer history, which shows the URLs that were visited. At trial, this ended up translating to the prosecutor telling the jury that this means that Julie "physically clicked" those links. In fact, pop-ups show up in the history the same way as a link you click on.

In truth, the software also cannot tell you who was in front of the computer, who typed in a URL, or who saw the pictures displayed. It's clear that someone who lacks the technical background to properly interpret the results, and is not willing to put in the time to figure it out, can jump to some very wrong conclusions. The detective never even looked for spyware on the computer.

This is the kind of technical evidence on which Julie was convicted.

An innocent teacher awaits sentencing

Julie is now awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for Mar. 2. I could discuss jail-time possibilities, but many of us are still refusing to accept any possibility other than someone coming to their senses and throwing the verdict out.

To that end, the experts I mentioned are frantically preparing their report on the technical information. The hope is that the prosecution or court will recognize that there has been a basic mistake in the facts presented at trial before a sentence is handed down.

Despite my bias that I told you about, do you have reasonable doubt about Julie's guilt? For more information, see the julieamer blog at Blogspot, which is largely maintained by Julie's husband. There's a PayPal button at the top of that blog so people can contribute to help pay Julie's defense costs, which are reported to be over $20,000 so far.

Invisible Baby

At the Car Wash

Bob, our wine-red Corolla, hadn't had a bath in a while. He wasn't at the stinking point yet, but he sure didn't look pretty. Matthew and I spent a morning this past week doing something about that.

Fortunately, we don't have a water source or hose available at our apartment complex, or I'd have felt some sort of compunction to do it myself. The Jomo gas station is nearby, so that's the next best thing (or much better, if you ask me).

This is the gas station that used to house my hair salon, but they've given that venture up and turned the building into a cafe/waiting area for the Jomo customers (which means I'm going to have to find a new place to get my hair cut). Matthew was ecstatic because they've got a cute little kids' area with bright shiny new toys and a playmat just right for eating.

Well, the other two waiting customers had a blast chatting with the mat-chewing gaijin baby (though it must've been hard for them to hear his replies with so much in his mouth), and when the workers were finished tidying up Bob, they came in and (uncharacteristically for Japanese employees) spent ages playing with him. One of them even carried the stroller out to Bob, folded it up, and put it in the trunk for me.

When I put the not-very-happy-to-be-leaving-all-the-attention Matthew into his car seat, I realized that not only had they vacuumed the inside of the car, Matthew's lap blankets were folded neatly beside his seat, waiting patiently and neatly for the next time they would be used.

What service.

Amazing Grace

I multitasked as Matthew napped this afternoon, and while I was planning menus, ordering groceries, cleaning up, having a snack, and looking up a new film, Amazing Grace, I heard more about it on NPR's Talk of the Nation podcast (February 22 edition) just as I clicked on the movie's Web site.

William Wilberforce. What a cool dude.

I had researched his life a couple of years ago when I first heard of him, and was touched by the fact that the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act just a few days before he died. That was his baby, and he'd worked for years for just that.

Will labored for the abolition of slavery a couple of hundred years ago, but unfortunately, it still exists today. According to UNICEF, there are one million people sold into slavery every year in our modern-day world. International Justice Mission is helping to end this nightmare.

I've met someone caught up in slavery here in Japan, and it was haunting to look in her eyes.


A few weeks ago Stephen and I prayed for a friend at church who's been struggling with neck pain for years. He runs a construction company, and one of the guys who works for him told us the next week that he knew for a fact that his boss's neck was healed.

Normally the boss would wear a pain-relieving compress on his neck, and the guys at work would be able to smell it a mile away. They know he's completely healed because they can't smell it anymore!

He told us with a big smile that he's fine!

Blows my mind!


Many, many months ago I wrote a post that made fun of a friend's English. That was so wrong of me, and I know it's dense, but I've only lately realized this. Friend, I'm sorry. I should never have done that. Please forgive me.

I've taken the post off our blog, and I want to apologize to our other readers as well. I was being obnoxious and condescending, trying to get a laugh at someone else's expense. I'm so sorry.

Sitting on the Shoulders of a Giant

Matthew reaches for his oxygen supply as he explores the rarefied heights on the top of daddy's head.

Daddy's, Mommy's, and Baby's Make Three (Pairs)

Cool Cat

After eight years of having the same glasses frames, I decided to splash out and order some new ones. As we walked into the glasses shop this morning, Matthew was given some very cool specs to keep him occupied while I spent ages deciding on ones for me. I don't think mine come anywhere near as funky as his, though. Boring old mommy.

Toy / Food Confusion

Put Matthew somewhere to play, and whatever is to hand goes in his mouth - toys, grass, sand, metal... anything.

Give Matthew some nice food to eat, and what happens? The plinky fingers spring into action, picking it apart, mashing it together and getting it everywhere, but at the end of the day very little ends up in the mouth.

Very fushigi.

Hyper Laughing

We had a crazy time last night making Matthew laugh with funny faces and crazy sounds. I think it got to the point where we both got a bit worked up and tired, though. Even this morning, he woke up and was bouncy and laughy, so the effects still seemed to be there. I challenge anyone to watch this video and not start laughing (or at least smiling!).

Watch closely for the tears (of laughter) in Matthew's eyes.

Happy Valentine's Day!

"It is your security in that love that will change you, not your struggle to try and earn it" (spoken by the character John in So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore, when he and Jake were discussing God's unconditional love).

The Wheels on the Train Go Round And Round

This video was taken on our local put-put train as we trundled back to Koyoen Station after our day out in downtown Osaka. Matthew loved standing on the seat (without his shoes on, of course) and watching the scenery go by.

It was such a big hit that I suggested to Abigail that a fun activity of an afternoon might be cruising up and down the two-stop spur line that comes up into our neighborhood so that Matthew can enjoy traveling along and looking out the windows. Plus it's air conditioned in the summer.

The train company assumes you will go one way and then get off, but there is no reason why you should not use your ticket to go up and down a few times before getting off back right where you started. And then the station just happens to be right near that purveyor of delicious cakes and confectionaries - Tsumagariya.



Whereas lukewarm means gently warm all over, nukewarm refers to the phenomenon created by our wimpy microwave whereby the overall average temperature of food is lukewarm, but it is divided into an outer zone of "dangerously hot" surrounding an inner core of "still frozen".

It's That Time Again

A warm winter means the plum blossoms are out a little earlier than usual. (Here is a post from late February 2005 when we lived in Okazaki.) Anyway, they are still a welcome sight as the first taste of spring.

Eleven Months! Wowzers!

As ever, each monthly post outlining Matthew's new tricks is more for my benefit than anyone else's (I'm not known for having a great memory, and have to write everything down for posterity's sake), so feel free to skim. I'm pretty darned proud of this baby-growing-into-a-boy, though! And not long till the one-year mark. Jeepers!

  • He's cruising! No, not for chicks, but around the sofas and other furniture. And he's getting faster and faster...
  • Hasn't quite figured out that he can go around stuff, and mostly just tries to go over, which means head first (of special concern when he climbs on top of the storage box in the living room, which was put there to stop him from escaping between the two sofas and as a link between the two for his cruising--we've had to put pillows around it so he can dive headfirst into those, and not the wood floor).
  • Doesn't know about gravity yet.
  • Had another cold, poor baby, and HATES (yes, in capitals) having his nose suctioned. But then again, who would enjoy that?
  • Absolutely loves it when I do my "chick, chick, chick, chickEN" impression.
  • Has started bee-bopping along to music, which is really cute!
  • His two new favorite toys were one-hundred-yen store finds (equivalent to dollar stores in the US, but much bigger and nicer). He loves his new maracas and click-clacker-thingy (not sure what that one's called).
  • Tries to pull any cord he can find.
  • Smiles proudly when I show him the empty bowl after he finishes eating.
  • Walks across the room while pushing his walker-thingy.
  • Loves to scrape his fingernails and pound on the wooden beams going underneath our dining room table.
  • Likes to stand on tippy toes to be as high up as possible.
  • Enjoys looking under furniture.
  • Is still bewildered by the squeaker in the seat of his new chair.
  • Blows raspberries with his mouth when concentrating or angry.
  • Sucks his left thumb when he's tired.
  • Can get down fairly gracefully from standing.
  • Reaches down and picks up a toy while standing and holding onto something (used to fall over when he tried that).
  • Had a laugh fest at his shadow and chased the other night.
  • In his high chair, he sticks his right foot up under the tray while he's eating.
  • Started getting scared of the vacuum cleaner recently, but I did what a book told me to do, and let him play with it and conquer it each time before I used it. Now he LOVES the vacuum again, and chases it as I go.
  • The other day I really thought he said "car keys," but there was no context for it, so my ears must've deceived me.
  • Stiffens his entire body lately when I put him in his car seat. Not his favorite place anymore.
  • Likes having his head rubbed, just like his daddy.
  • Cried the other morning when we dropped Stephen off at work, and fusses when Stephen leaves home in the morning sometimes to walk to work. Bye-bye is not fun for Matthew.
  • Leaves a slime trail of drool wherever he goes.
  • Got his eighth tooth yesterday.
  • We've dubbed his "Grins and Giggles" toothpaste "Tears and Anger." Teeth brushing is not exactly his favorite activity.
  • Stephen likes to make Matthew laugh by doing the famous "Tickle Torture," which involves tickling, obviously, and a special Stephen phrase that goes something like "Round and round the tickle tummy go the tickle fingers!"

Stunt Baby

Plum Purty

The plum blossoms are back, and boy, are they beautimous!

Flashbacks to Florida

Matthew and Auburn-Tiger Pa
Matthew helps Pop do sit-ups
Uncle Doug entertains Ethan and Matthew
Elise loves her Mimi!
Mommee Melt and Pa celebrating Christmas on New Year's Eve with the fam

Beach Shots

More Flashbacks

In the not-too-hot tub with Auntie Tina
Auntie TT couldn't be there in person, so was there in spirit with Godmother Holly
Clothes coincidence with Mel at the New Year's Day open house
Matthew loved Great-Grandma Sue's nose
Auntie Sharon with Matthew's cousins Elise and Ethan


Think About It

One more thought from the podcast I blogged about two days ago. Brad and Wayne, the God Journey guys, quoted a study done in the U.S. recently:

"Your happiness level is not based on what you have, but what you want that you don't have."


Anybody else out there like me who needs to go on a "stuff" diet? I've just been listening to The God Journey podcast, "Greed, Grace, and Giving," and laughed my stuff off at a Sean Deitrich song they played called, amazingly enough, "Stuff" (which you can download for free by clicking the previous link). (Was so touched by the YouTube video and U2 song in the podcast, too, a call to help AIDS victims. I also set aside some time to view Shawn Zimmerman's other videos, and I didn't regret it.)

I guffawed at the humor of "Stuff," but it was one of those painful laughs that hurts because it hits home, a deep place in my heart that needs rooting out and bonfiring away.

Know what I mean, Vern? (That shows my age, hey!)

Don't worry, though - even if you're an I-want-stuff-aholic like me, this podcast is not about banging you over the head to get you to change. Check out the second word of the podcast title. Grace-full is how I feel after listening and letting the message sink in.

May the grace of Jesus pour over you in buckets today. Be deluged!

"Overzealous Big Pork Stomps on Breastfeeding Blogger"

You gotta check this out! The Pork Board must've been extremely bored when they decided to pick on The Lactivist.

This blog made a whopping $8 on the t-shirt that the Pork People are upset about. Big deal, hey.

Anyway, breastfeeding activists everywhere are up in bras about this outrage.

With The Lactivist in hot pursuit, I can imagine the Board is running home crying with their curly tails tucked between their little stumpy legs.

Did somebody say BBQ?

Fushigi Hand

Sometimes I just don't understand our son. Don't get me wrong - he's always a delight, but we do get a kick out of his fushigi baby antics.

Take today, for instance. I was eating my lunch at the dining room table while watching him entertain himself in the living room with his wheeled walker-pusher thingy.

He suddenly raised one hand in the air, very gingerly moving his fingers around like they were a complete novelty (which I guess they still are - Matthew's only known of their existence for a handful of months).

Then here comes the fushigi part: The culprit hand grabbed the unsuspecting baby's nose in a not-so-subtle gesture of sudden defiance. The poor boy didn't know what to do! He was confused as to where this thing came from, and more importantly, what it was up to.

He never did figure it out, but in the end, he managed to break free of the scary Nose Gripper of Grief. Whew.

Who's to Blame?

A fisherman at the drying Dongting Lake in Hunan, China
Human activity is likely to increase global temperatures by 1.8-4C over the next century, scientists warn.

So it's humans who are to blame? But wait! Just a few minutes ago, it was mankind. I guess this was considered a non-politically correct word to use, so it got changed. And not long before that, it was man who was blamed. The PC police are obviously out in force today.

Anyway, the point is that I am sad as I had I wanted to do a blog post about the man who is to blame for all this global warming stuff. Does he look familiar to you? If you know him, please tell him that we are toasty enough for the moment and he can stop now.


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