Archive for November 2007

Sibling Gravity-Well Time Sink Number Two: Flixster   10 comments

Meg and Ann both got hooked into Goodreads, so I thought I’d throw Flixster out there as an additional huge time waster, especially for Megan. I’m not sure I like it yet; it’s very similar to Goodreads in the interface, which doesn’t bode well for me, since my Goodreads adoption has slowed down somewhat now that the UI has gotten a little clunky (I don’t know that I like how the UI scales).

Here’s my list so far; it’s obviously just scratching the surface…

Posted November 29, 2007 by padraic2112 in movies, social, tech, web sites

I Am Iron Man   4 comments

Human-response exoskeletons, in real life, are getting to be pretty amazing.  Thanks to Vinnie for the link.

My wife works for the Al Mann Foundation, and one of their devices, (spunoff into a for profit company) is an implantable neurostimulator.  Imagine a battery powered device, about 33mm long and 3 mm in diameter, which can be implanted at the end of a disconnected nerve (say, in a spinal cord injury patient), and connected to a control system that enables that device to provide an electrical charge to the nerve.  With a complicated enough control system, you can essentially restore motion to a limb that has been cut off from the central nervous system.

You can get bionic ears (from more than one vendor), or a bionic visual system (not HD resolution, but it shouldn’t be too long before they can get there).  Some of the big brain crew at Caltech are working on cognitive neural prosthesis.

Aside from all the actual constructive uses for this technology, put this all together and it’s not too much longer before your Special Forces crew are one-man armies, making the Future Force Warrior crew relative lightweights.

Put a computer behind it all, and it’s time for everyone to buy a copy of The Guide.

Posted November 25, 2007 by padraic2112 in hardware, news, tech

Wow, that’s one big honkin’ drive   1 comment

Someone came to visit this post on the blog yesterday from a search result.  By itself, that’s no surprise, that post represents about 57% of my visits.  What’s astounding to me is the terms used in the search:

 12 tb partition for vista

A 12 terabyte partition?  For a Vista machine?  Good God, my worst imaginings are coming true quicker than I realized.  To whoever you are, should you come to visit the blog again, I plead to you, as a IT professional and geek, don’t put a 12 TB partition on a workstation operating system.

Posted November 19, 2007 by padraic2112 in hardware, software, tech, Windows

Background Checking is Teh Awesome   1 comment

Oh, my.  From the LA Times (By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer November 14, 2007)

An illegal immigrant from Lebanon with relatives linked to the militant Islamic group Hezbollah paid a U.S. citizen to marry her and then lied her way through national security background checks to become an agent for the FBI and the CIA.


To join the FBI and CIA, Prouty had to be a U.S. citizen and undergo a background check. Officials at both agencies insisted that thorough background checks had been done. FBI spokesman Stephen Kodak said agents interviewed family, friends and associates in the U.S. and Lebanon to make sure Prouty did not pose a security risk, and that Prouty passed a polygraph test.

“We relied on her legitimate naturalization documents. What the investigation revealed was that those naturalization papers were obtained through a long-term pattern of fraudulent claims,” Kodak said. “Do additional measures need to be implemented? Possibly.”

Ya think?

Coincidentally, in a real way this ties into a conversation about Qmail on this thread on Bruce’s blog. If you’re outsourcing trust, you don’t get to absolve yourself of the responsibility of maintaining your security profile.

Posted November 16, 2007 by padraic2112 in news, security

Process, Process, Process   Leave a comment

Interestingly, both of my sisters wrote blog posts in the last two days talking about the same thing.  Both are funny anecdotes, but that’s not the point.

Every person does a million things every day.  With very few exceptions, most of these things follow some sort of process.  Sometimes the processes make sense, when observed objectively, and sometimes they don’t.  Processes can develop by habit, by inclination, via natural selection, and only very rarely by planning.

Think about the story that Megan is describing in her post.  If you’re a security nut like me, you have to take off your infosec hat to get past the horrible horribleness of what she’s describing (from a security standpoint, everything about this story makes me go “yuck, yuck, ick, ewwww, bad!”).  The story illustrates very well what happens when a planned process runs up against one that is designed by natural selection.  The planned process belongs to the website; they force password expiration (good!) but they do it in a way designed to minimize impact on their customers – instead of having a hard expiration, they have a soft expiration (somewhat less good).  This is built off of a number of assumptions of the designers of the web site.  Now look at the process on the other side -> some large set of employees has access to this account.  At some arbitrary point one of those employees is required to change this password.  So far, so good.  Said employee changes the password (as required by the web site) and informs the Administrator that the password has been changed.  Still, so far so good.  However, there is a time delay between when the password has been changed and when the change is registered and published.  Normally, this is perfectly fine.  Who cares?  If nobody accesses this web site except once every six months or so, this is hardly a big deal, right?  In this particular case, though, The Head Honcho tries the password that is expected to work, and it doesn’t.

Now the weakness of the natural selection process is illustrated in all its glory.  The Head Honcho (like most bosses) doesn’t like change.  Particularly undocumented change.  By God, someone has BROKEN THE PROCESS, and must pay!  The process isn’t broken, it’s working exactly the way it is supposed to – it only adapts to change *when something goes wrong*.  So, everyone runs around looking for someone to blame to appease The Honcho, they assign blame, and they make the employee promise never to change the password again.

Except nobody has thought this through (people normally don’t with organic processes).  They don’t have the option to limit the ability of the employee to change the password.  Perhaps this one employee, sure, but that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t do it later.  Even if they do manage to get everyone to follow the new rule, this means that there is a glaring new weakness in the process -> the next time the password needs to be changed, nobody can do anything until the Administrator changes the password and publishes it to the rest of the company.  It might take a while for this weakness to crop up, and it may take longer for it to crop up in a way that disturbs The Head Honcho.  Sooner or later, though, someone else is going to get yelled at for trying to get their job done.

There are several right ways to solve this problem from a process standpoint.  One, get everyone their own account on this web site.  That probably won’t happen for any number of reasons.  If that’s not practical, give everyone that has the ability to use the web site the ability to change the magic password excel sheet.  That probably won’t happen because the Administrator will freak out if they have to delegate that responsibility.  If you’re not going to make one of those two changes, though, it’s the job of the managers to go back to The Honcho and say, “This will happen again, don’t freak out and yell at another innocent employee.  We can’t fix this to prevent it from happening again.”  If you can’t (or won’t) adapt your business process to match an external process that you can’t change, you’re not managing anything.

On to Ann’s story.

She’s lucky; for the most part she has complete control over how the kitchen is laid out.  Not so in my house; my wife and I both cook, and we both have ideas about where things should be, and unless we get about a half-million dollar windfall when we move up to our next house we’re going to have to compromise.  Kitty is like Ann; she has things where things have always been, by habit and/or by inclination.  I’m a process nut, I want things to be where they ought to be to maximize the tasks that need to be performed in a kitchen.  Every time I go to get (very few) certain things in the kitchen, I have to mentally grit my teeth, because they ought not to be there, they ought to be here.  Of course, I have to admit that my idea of “ought” isn’t universal.  I have NADD, for one thing, and I don’t have a Cave, so my outlets are significantly stifled at this point.  But even when I compensate for that, the God’s honest truth is that Kitty wants some things to be some place because that’s where she wants them to be (due to habit or inclination), and she really doesn’t care about whether or not that is going to affect her day by a microsecond or two when she’s in the kitchen.

I can’t say that’s wrong, certainly, and I love my wife dearly.  It’s no great sacrifice to have a section of the cupboard dedicated to 50 different assortments of tea.  Not to mention the fact that while Dave is right, (Routine leads to Ritual leads to Religion), the flip side of that is that constantly managing your routine obsessively can lead to a spiral descent into obsessive-compulsive disorder, so sometimes it’s a good idea not to optimize every last damn thing.

But I have a challenge for you, Ann.  Next time you move, instead of putting things where you think they ought to go by instinct, try to arrange your kitchen entirely by task.  You do it already [you have to, ’cause you’re short – editor’s dig] but build your kitchen from the ground all the way up, instead of starting where Dad puts things.

Posted November 15, 2007 by padraic2112 in humor, management

Unnecessary Features   1 comment

Here is one giant color printer.  A beast used for printing billboards and very large posters.

New feature: you can get it with a duplexer.

Now, I understand that there can exist a couple of uses for this.  But really, how often are you going to print to two sides of a 5′ x 12′ sheet?

Posted November 14, 2007 by padraic2112 in hardware, noise, tech

Random Googling   3 comments

My wife was recently googling people near and dear and found out that apparently I’m quotable.  Dig me, I’m a source!  Speaking out against the Collective, no less.

Posted November 14, 2007 by padraic2112 in noise, OS, tech, web sites, Windows

Top Gear is the Funniest Show on Television   8 comments

Some context to this review is necessary.

Imagine that you’re the kind of person who has never really entirely given up on a teenage boy’s fascination with the automobile.  The kind who can listen to Rush’s “Red Barchetta” and think to himself, “Man, that’s my idea of social protest”.  Imagine that you have been given free license to run your own TV show with two of your goofball buddies.  Imagine further that you have access to what seems like nearly unlimited funds, provided you use them to (a) drive ridiculously designed cars really fast; (b) invite british celebrities to take a normal car for a spin around your test track and poke general (and gentle) fun at them; and (c) do one magnificently foolish project a week that would resemble a “Jackass” project except for the fact that it includes little or no toilet humor and must be executed on an epic scale.  When I say epic scale… well, if you’re a fan of MythBusters (which I also enjoy), think of what their average show is like, and compare that to the time they blew up the cement truck.  If you consider the average MB show a 1, and blowing up the cement truck a 4, Top Gear’s average episode clocks in at a 9, and that’s on a logarithmic scale.

You can view clips of many of the shows on YouTube, but the cadence of the show and the progression from the ridiculous to the sublime is part of the fun; I recommend watching each episode in it’s entirety.  And it’s now on BBCA!  No writer’s strike!

They also have someone on the producer crew who has an absolutely perfect flair for picking the right song clips for audio track enhancement.

Posted November 9, 2007 by padraic2112 in humor, social

On Warrantless Wiretapping, Part III   5 comments

Congress is still debating giving the telecommunications companies immunity for participating in the NSA domestic wiretap program. More complete indexed coverage here. Yesterday I heard an interview with Mark Klein where he talks more about the Narus equipment that is (allegedly, but likely) used in this program. Also blogged about here at Muckraker, and of course Ed Felten’s blog.

For those unclear on the technical terminology, a single Narus insight is capable of “packet processing performance that supports network speeds of up to OC-192 at layer 4 and OC-48 at layer 7, enabling carriers to monitor traffic at either the edge of the network or at the core.” (from their own website). An OC-192 is a network line with transmission speeds of up to 9953.28 Mbit/s, and is commonly used as a aggregation channel between large ISPs. An OC-48 is a common backbone speed for regional ISPs.

Layer 4 traffic inspection includes source and destination IP addresses, layer 7 traffic inspection includes reading all the way down into the data payload of an IP packet. This means that an Insight stuck on the end of an OC-48 can semantically analyze the entire contents of all of the unencrypted outbound traffic for a regional ISP.

Regardless of how this is being characterized, it is important for everyone to know that this means that something is reading all of your Internet traffic. And the Internet traffic of your elected officials, your political organizations, everybody. Since the FBI has already shown that they’re willing to collection information without a warrant, don’t kid yourself that these devices won’t ever be misused.

Posted November 8, 2007 by padraic2112 in politics, security, tech

Is that guy behind you in line a ninja?   3 comments

I don’t have an iPod, but clearly I should.


Posted November 5, 2007 by padraic2112 in noise