The Real Thing

I used to work for a consultancy called Trusted Information Systems, back in 1990-1994, which was a big contractor for DARPA and NSA. That was how I wound up building security systems in some pretty interesting places including the Clinton White House.

As I was walking by one of the trash cans in the HQ, one day, I saw something interesting and grabbed it. I was dumpster diving long before dumpster diving was cool.

You’ll notice that one of the stickers is missing.

This set of stickers was on one of the shelves in my office at home, when a fellow I knew, one Boyd Roberts (since, sadly, deceased) saw it and thought it was cool, and asked if he could take one. Of course I said “yes” so Boyd did, and stuck it on his laptop. Now Boyd was an extremely Australian fellow, even for an Australian, and he eventually had to return to Australia and went to the airport with his laptop. Then, he missed his flight and spent 12 hours in a small room at Dulles Airport being interrogated by an increasingly high-up bunch of FBI people. Eventually, he was allowed to leave without his laptop after reaching an agreement with the FBI people that he could take copies of some of his data off of it, before they impounded it, but he sat there with glowering FBI guys reading all the emails and stuff he wanted to keep.

Fortunately for Boyd, he realized pretty quickly that the FBI guys were really serious, and didn’t take any of the piss from them. (Is that how Australians say it? I forget.)

A few years later, Boyd was living in Paris France, playing guitar in a bar, and I had a great dinner with him at a little bistro, and about a month later there was an email from his then girlfriend saying he had died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

I suppose, in honor of the dead, I’ll tell another Boyd story. He fell in love with the 9mm model of the Beretta 92 automatic pistol, and wanted to get one legally. In France they have a great way of restricting people from such things: you have to a) convince the French cops that you have a need for it and b) undergo an interview and possible practical exam regarding it. That was a day when Boyd was taking the piss, so he apparently arranged with the police that if he could demonstrate that he was proficient with a model 92, he could get the appropriate license. Now, things get fun. When he had expressed an interest in this, to me, I told him, “here’s what you do…” and suggested he guy one of the airsoft ‘green gas’ replicas, which handle pretty much exactly like the real thing. All the safeties and mechanisms are functional, and they shoot 6mm plastic BBs. I told Boyd, “just put a few shootable things in your apartment, like playing cards or whatever, and every so often grab the gun and try to hit them.” That’s good advice, by the way. You want to be so drilled with a particular gun that you can simply hold it and think holes in targets and the holes appear where you want them. Fast forward 3 months and Boyd’s emailing me complaining that the BB guns are junk and his already was worn out and it was no fun anymore because he had stopped missing. I asked for more information and found out that he had switched from trying to hit playing cards to shooting at toothpicks, and then he had stopped missing those, too. Boyd had put thousands and thousands of BBs through the gun until its action wore completely to bits.

So, the French cops sneeringly (as French cops are trained to do) marched Boyd down to the pistol range and one of the cops put a Beretta 92 and an empty clip and a handful of bullets down, and ran a target out. Boyd loaded the clip, everyone put on their earmuffs, and Boyd fired a perfect hole in the center of the target, without even using the sights, just holding the gun casually at waist level while he shot. The cops offered him a job and he said he couldn’t work with cops on account of how much he hated them. Anyhow, he got his license for the gun, but had to join a gun club and pay a ton of money for it to be stored in their safe when he wasn’t shooting it, etc. He was happy with the damn thing but I bet he had more fun with the BB gun and could have afforded to wear a few dozen of those out for what the real thing cost.

Since I’m rambling, I recently had cause to clean out my desk (searching for a lost document) and stumbled across another forgotten bit of Marcus-lore: my burner phone.

I was in Jeddah in 2009 working on an incident response that had some major involvement by the Saudi DoD (I had my own commando following me everywhere, watching me!) and the DoD gave me a phone that I could use, that they could reach, which nobody knew to track or monitor. When I was heading home later I asked if they wanted the phone back and they said, “you can keep it, you may need a burner phone some day.” It’s a fun phone because it has slots for multiple SIM cards, so I could (in principle) buy one of those limited hours SIMs and have connectivity that is not tied to me, personally. I wonder if it would still work, but I don’t think I care anymore so it’s going into the trash.


  1. xohjoh2n says

    Ah, I see that “burner phone” is a highly context dependent term, and that “burner phone that the Saudi DoD can track” is a particularly rarified version of it.

  2. badland says

    Vernacular tutorial! It’s ‘take the piss,’ no more and no less. Viz:

    “Are you taking the piss?”

    “She takes the piss something cruel.”

    “He took the piss of the FBI agents at customs and now he’s shopping for a new laptop.”

    Good to see you posting again Marcus.

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