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February 29, 2008

Best Business Card Ever

One of the things that I miss the most about the television show Arrested Development is the character Dr. Tobias Fünke, played by David Cross.  With this character's nevernude condition and painfully gay double entendre, there are a ton of running jokes.  The best of which has to do with his groundbreaking work as a Psycho Analyst/Therapist and the inappropriate custom portmanteau he creates to describe his work.

 

God bless these people if they actually make a movie. 

And in the non-television world, this is one of the funniest business cards that I have ever seen:

 

 

February 28, 2008

FCC Spectrum Auction, memories of years past

Recently there has been a lot of articles about the 700 MHz FCC auction.  With Google and a bunch of other big heavy hitters going after the auction, it is an exciting time for wireless.  It got my mind spinning back to the year 1994. I think I can hear Stone Temple Pilots if I listen hard enough...

The company that I was working for at the time had partnered up with one of the IVDS license holders to create an asymetrical link demo for their newly minted 218-219 MHz license.  The ink was barely dry on the paperwork before we were commissioned to have a system up and running.  Older Ham radio folks get all worked up on this subject, as the lower end of the 1.25 meter band was "stolen" from them for the use of United Parcel Sercvice on an unbuilt truck tracking data network.  When the UPS license expired, this prime 1 MHz chunk of bandwidth was auctioned off in metropolitan regions, with an A and B license holder scheme, similar to the old AMPS cellular network in the US.  I can't remember the specifics on license costs, and I'm really too lazy to look it up.  500 KHz per license holder is a pretty huge chunk of spectrum.  While small compared to the 700 MHz band, around 200 MHz you have some strange propogation characteristics.  While it is VHF and works in a fairly line of sight manner, you also get some interesting multipath and beyond the horizon propogation without a huge amount of power.

If you think back to 1994, this is a time when 14.4kbps modems were a BIG deal and it cost and arm and a leg to get 128 kbps access via ISDN, so you can imagine that trying to figure out how to use 500 KHz of bandwidth to push data down to end users was very exciting.  The first demo used a ton of ham radio equipment purchased from Ham Radio Outlet and modified for use on this project.  The head end used a computer to take serial input from up to four sources, channelize it, then push it to a SSE satellite modem that used QAM modulation, but I can't remember exactly how many symbols.  The IF coming out of the modem was 70 MHz, so a custom mixer was used to take the output up to the RF frequency.  On the receive end a Standard Electronics ham radio HT (in layman's terms a walkie talkie), was used to receive the signal.  The IF of the radio was tapped, and run into an SSE modem that demodulated the signal, sent it via synchronous serial to a computer, and in turn the computer output a regular RS-232 signal.  The cool thing about this, is that what this ended up doing is to create an end to end one way RS-232 path that was transparent to the other equipment attached.

 

(images courtesy of DTN via archive.org

The first application of this was the use of a DTN networks box.  People on both coasts of the US probably have no idea what I am talking about, but DTN pretty much has owned the technology market for farmers from the beginning.  Basically at the time they transmitted their data to a Ku band satellite transponder, which you pick up at your location with a 36" dish and run it to the DTN box, which is a very simple teletext device connected to a TV monitor.  Crop reports, futures reports, etc.  Very cool and very simple.  

 

To test reliability we installed the head end unit in San Francisco on the top of the Hilton.  In the pre-9/11 days nobody even asked questions when you were hefting 1/3 rack of equipment through the kitchen and on to the roof.  Our equipment was installed along side the pager transmitters and other radio gear in the shack on the roof.  We tuned up a ham radio Ringo Ranger for the 1.25 meter band and started transmitting.  I think we had 50 watts of power or somewhere near it.

In the days after the installation we spent the evenings driving up and down the peninsula to see what type of coverage and interference we were getting.  With three in the mini-van, one drove, one watched the HP spectrum analyzer and one manned the rack.  We had incredible coverage all over the bay with the exception of Daly City.  It is amazing what you can do with a meager signal when it is transmitted from high enough and transmitted with forward error correction

 

In the end, the whole system wasn't developed, the IVDS license holders lapsed and just became an unhappy memory for company management.  I imagine there is some ham club in the south bay that has been active on 220 MHz in a big way over the years due to all the equipment we sold off for surplus over Usenet, back in the days when it wasn't just porn. 

When I think back to this whole experience it makes me smile.  This is the first time that I really got to work hands on with RF equipment other than just talking with friends on the CB.  The engineers that I worked with spent the time to explain things to me, even though I didn't have the math and physics background at the time to truly understand all of it.  I hope that every kid that has a fondness for technology has a chance like this to learn on the job.  It didn't pay a lot of money, but it was better than bagging groceries or flipping burgers. 

 
Oh, and BTW, whenever I think about RF spectrum these days, I think about this XKCD comic

Tracking US Government Spending

I was having a discussion with a co-worker about previous experience for candidates in the upcoming US Presidential race.  I am not one to discuss politics online, but I did run across one thing that Barack Obama was involved with that I find very refreshing.  The Transparency Act, though the http://www.usaspending.gov/ website that the government setup, allows the taxpayers to see where money has been spent over the last several years.  As an employee of a large defense firm that bids on and receives US Government money, I've spend time looking through the data.  I've come to the personal conclusion that there is enough information there to show the transparency that the public requires, while still leaving out specific details that could cause operational security issues for those people and organizations performing the work. 

 

Flatulence. The Internet. Demographics.

I was recently looking through the logs to this web server, as I was bored at the time, and ran across the page that continues to get the most hits.  When I was a freshman in college I ran across a text file that described in detail the chemical reactions that cause flatulence.  Being amused with the serious treatment of something so silly, I converted it to html and put it on the web. 

If you want to check it out, here it is:

THE FACTS ABOUT FLATULENCE - by Margaret C. McDonald 

This leads me to believe that the theory that I came upon in sixth grade is actually a law.

FART = FUNNY 

Seriously, ask any man or boy in the key demographics of 1-18 and 18-35 and you will find this to be fact.  I am sure that there are rules, specific limiting factors, and other constraints to which this is true, but I'll leave that for the internet to figure out.

Attached is a fake graph of these demographics, which proves my point.  This is the internet, I don't need proof.  Trust my numbers, even if they are completely fabricated.  You will find a resurgence in flatus humor in retirement.

 

 

February 27, 2008

Citations made easy!

When I was in grad school, one of the biggest pains was putting everything that I cited into the correct citation format.  We used APA format, and after a few months you can cite things pretty easily, but if you only write academic papers occasionally, you might want to try out OttoBib. This site takes the book ISBN number and translates it into the correct citation format, whether you need APA, MLA or whatever.  The result also comes up with a snazzy graphic of the book cover.  Not bad for free!


Beep Boop Beep Boop, yeah that is music...

 

If you watch the television show Lost, you may have really dug how Charlie used the Beach Boys' song Good Vibrations to do some things that I won't spoil for you.  It turns out that there is a web site that has a listing of various DTMF songs for your listening pleasure.  If you are stuck in a phone booth, jail cell or cubicle without any form of entertainment, this might be something better than twiddling your thumbs.  Another version of the website is available here.

The best tip from the fist site is that you can play Funkytown with the sequence: 55754 45085

 

A Safer DNS

 

Recently we have been hearing more about phishing and redirection attacks on internet connected client machines using hacked DNS or DHCP servers.  If you have reason to distrust the security of your network provider's DNS, or you are just fed up with advertisements popping up when you mistype a URL.  One such service that allows you to receive DNS service seperate from your network provider is called OpenDNS.

They have instructions for using their service on Windows, Mac, Unix/Linux boxes, DSL routersh, as well as corporate internal DNS servers to work with their service. 

I have found that this service works on most ISPs, but sometimes if you are at a hotel or Wi-Fi hotspot that requires logging into a captive portal for payment, authentication, or to validate the terms of service, you may need to use their DNS first before switching the settings. 
While you would have to put your trust in the providers at OpenDNS to keep their DNS servers hacker free, I would would rather use their service that rely on some random DNS server that is provided over a free WiFi connection.  This is not to be construed as an endorsement, but I have been happy with their free service.  There are a ton of other services out there, or you could even build your own DNS server and sync it to the ROOT DNS servers, but this solution is pretty mindless and mitigates a lot of security concerns.

IP addresses to use OpenDNS:

  • 208.67.222.222 - Primary
  • 208.67.220.220 - Secondary 

February 26, 2008

The Pragmatic Adult Learner

After I finished graduate school, I was asked to participate in the Ambassador program at Capella University.  I was very happy with my education there, so I agreed to participate.  After exchanging e-mails and phone calls with several potential students I started thinking about all the things that made me successful as a working adult learner.  I've put together a small paper with my ideas on this.

Introduction and Background
     
     Close to a decade had passed since I had completed my undergraduate education.  I wanted to continue my education and further my career, but due to the demands of my job it was not possible to enroll in a school where my physical presence was required.  As an undergraduate at California State University, Chico I had studied Instructional Systems Design and Distance Learning, so I decided that it would be appropriate for me to experience this type of learning first hand.  Caught up in the hiring frenzy that personified the 90's dot-com era, I gravitated towards the Information Technology field, as that is where the money was for me. 

    Several years into my career I decided that I needed to further my education so I could in turn boost my career.  I had found a niche for myself in information security and network engineering.  Unfortunately with that success came at the price of a large amount of last minute travel where I couldn't be sure that I would make class meetings on a regular basis.  At that point I decided to look into what options were available for me through the Internet.

Employer Support and Accreditation

    I spent many nights searching the Internet for information on what to look for in an institution.  The first factor was Regional Accreditation by one of the big six regional accreditation agencies that the US Department of Education recognizes.  While there are national (i.e. DETC) and state level (i.e. California and Virginia) accreditations, the company that I was employed at would only recognize regional accreditation when it came to reimbursement of tuition costs and future recognition of the degree granted.  Another factor that faces many learners is the ability to get Federal student loans.  For some people this may be a factor that can cause problems, so make sure to deeply research the decision.

The current US Regional Accreditation Bodies are:

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCA)
  • Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)
  • Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NWCCU)
  • Learner Motivation

         The initial reason to return to school varies from person to person.  For some, they are looking for a sense of completion, others are looking to get a promotion, still others are looking to make more money to better support their families.  Adult learners have the added responsibilities of jobs, spouses, family obligations, raising children, and many other situations that require a higher level of motivation to keep a constant inertia so that they can achieve their degree.  Being able to pace one's self and see the long term view can help to keep them motivated.  Make sure to investigate such things as how you will fund your education (personal funds, student loans, employer reimbursement, etc.), as a setback in funding can kill your motivation dead in it's tracks.  Choosing a school that has a cohort system can be helpful in getting motivated by working with the same group of people throughout your degree program

    Advantages of Online learning

         While some people's learning styles are adverse to online study, for those who enjoy it or just tolerate it can reap the advantages.  In my travels I have been able to access my class materials and work on projects from Airport lounges, Train stations, the neighborhood coffee shop and of course, hotels.  Being able to use idle time that would be used commuting, being bored in a hotel, or sitting on a cross country flight time can be used for something that can further your education.   

        Beyond travel angle, online learning gives higher education access to many rural learners.  In North America it is now possible to get internet access at broadband speeds via wireless links or satellite connection almost anywhere.  Not having a compus within driving distance is not a limitation anymore.  In the past several university systems designed microwave and satellite based distance learning systems for outlying communities, but that still required a local facility with equipment and a drive.  Now anyone with a laptop computer, a HughesNet dish (which is about $59 USD for a month of satellite broadband service) and the time to study can finish up to a doctorate without leaving their home.  It is literally possible to finish an MBA via the internet while serving in the military in overseas in forward combat areas.  We live in amazing times.


    Tips for the Online learner

    I am a great believer that if you believe that you can do it, it is possible.  I wish the best of luck to anyone reading this posting that is looking to further their educational journey, whether online or in a brick and mortar school. 

    In a nutshell here are the tips that helped to make me successful 

    1. Set aside private time daily to study.  Don't put off studying to one or two days a week.
    2. Don't overload your schedule.  It is better to take a lighter classload during the year and then do summer school, than it is to cram it all in.  Having a balanced life is important.  I was able to take vacations to Europe and the Carribbean while I was in school, yet was still able to get online and take care of my classwork.
    3. Get the support of your family.  If you can't get private time at home, try booking time at a public library. Many libraries in my area have private study rooms and have Wi-Fi access. 
    4. With your boss' approval, use your lunch break to read or do postings.
    5. Print out working materials, reading from paper is much easier than the screen.  Your eyes will thank you.  Easier to read on public transit and who cares if it is stolen! :)
    6. If you have electronic access to your textbook, print out the chapters that are assigned for reading.  This will save you weight on your carry on travel.  Try to recycle the paper and be green.  I am all for being a little less green if I don't get a back ache and eye strain.
    7. BACKUP. BACKUP. BACKUP.  Use a thumb drive or removable media to make backup copies of your work.  Having a thumb drive backup saved me on three occasions due to application crashed and one hard drive crash.  Murphy's law turns out to be quite true.

     

     

    The real slow boat to China

     

    When I was 22 years old and had just finished my bachelor's degree, I decided that I needed a new goal to set my sights on.  Without much thought I decided that I would travel to every continent by the time I reached the age of 30.  While I've been successful in travelling to over twenty countries so far, I missed this goal several years ago and by several continents.  When I was looking into achieving this, I ran into the interesting concept of freighter travel.  In this mode of transit you literally traverse the oceans as a passenger on a cargo ship as it makes visits to all of the ports of call.  While this method can be slower than an airplane or other traditional modes of transit, but I think the amount of introspective time and solitude could be quite soothing.

    These freighers usually follow normal trade routes around the world and have ports of call in places such as Northern Europe, India, The Mediterranean, Central America, South America, The Carribbean, The Pacific Rim, Austrailia and New Zealand.  Depending on the size of the ship and the country of registry, the accomodations on ships can vary.


    While searching the internet, I found three such travel providers that cater to English speaking clientelle.


    I think that in some ways, this is almost like the working man's cruise ship condominium that people have been talking about.  I'm sure that you would be seeing the world from a much more realistic perspective as well.  While my current life situation and worldly obligations precludes me from taking such a voyage, I think at some point in my life I would love to do this type of trip.  While I'd never get to Antarctica on a freighter, I think I've already decided that I'm going to do a Lindblad expedition to the bottom of the world when I get into a financial situation where I can can drop 20 grand without sweating.



     


    Worldwide Social Network Usage Graphic

    Playing around with Spock and Plaxo recently, I've been interested in the worldwide usage of social networks.  It always seemed that one Country/Region/Linguistic area have higher proportions of useage, but I hadn't seen any hard figured until now.  But I really haven't been looking, and yes I found this through Digg.  While Le Monde's graphic is in French, I'm pretty sure anyone with a basic grasp of a romantic language can figure this out.

     

    February 18, 2008

    Wi-Fi, Hams, and Transverters

     

    I was looking at the ARRL's band plan and started thinking about the higher frequency microwave bands.  While I know there are some experimenters working on using these allocations, in my limited experience it always seems as if operators are using tried and true narrow band modes such as CW and SSB.  I haven't worked out all the math behind it yet, but I'm thinking that it might be possible to build a transverter to upconvert a standard Wi-Fi signal to one of the higher frequency ham bands, such as:

    • 47.0-47.2 GHz
    • 78.0-81.0 GHz
    • 122.25-123.0 GHz
    • 134-141 GHz
    • 241-250 GHz

     

    Frequency Allocation

    Bandwidth

    Could Fit How Many Wi-Fi Bands?

    47.0-47.2 GHz

    200 MHz

    2.4

    78.0-81.0 GHz

    3000 MHz

    35.9

    122.25-123.0 GHz

    750 MHz

    8.9

    134-141GHz

    7000 MHz

    83.8

    241-250 GHz

    9000 MHz

    107.8

     In these bands, there should be much less crowding and you have the ability to upconvert a wide band signal (such as the 84.5MHz wide Wi-Fi band in the United States).  There are already similar products used to upconvert the 2.4GHz ISM band to 5.8GHz in production that use the 2.4 GHz frequency as the IF input.


    Lots of other things that I haven't though about including cost, propogation and all of that I'll leave to someone else.  I just think that with such a crowded 2.4GHz band, it might be useful to use higher frequency allocation for such high bandwidth tasks as linking EOC centers, creating data links between hilltop reapeater sites, or just because it can be done. 

    As I type this I am paying $12.95/day for Wi-Fi at the hotel I am at.  *SIGH*

    February 11, 2008

    I have no idea what you're talking about...

    In homage to the "I have no idea what you're talking about... so here's a bunny with a pancake on it's head" meme page starring Oolong the rabbit, I proudly give you...

     Oprah with a pancake on her head

     

     

    (No cats were harmed in the pursuit of the perfect head/pancake combination.  Yes, that is steam coming off the pancake.  What is the point if it is not straight off the griddle.  Do not stare directly into the sun.  Do not taunt happy fun ball.) 

     

    Update: Grampy's Cliche City has a great link with multiple photos 

    Fashion Show!

     

     DO NOT LIKE!

     ---

    Note: For some reason I get about 50 junk trackbacks to this page from Russian fashion blogs.  Odd.

    Это нет страницы интернета которая общается с способом, его изображение кота нося шлем.

    February 10, 2008

    Dog Party

    This weekend we celebrated the 5th birthday of our dog Hazel.  We had a few friends over for cake for the two legged people, as well as cakes for the dogs, dog games, and a dog piñata.

     

    My wife gets some sort of perverse pleasure out of dressing our pets.  Hazel didn't seem to mind the t-shirt, rubber tiara, and tu tu.  She actually seemed to like it.  All the dogs slept very well last night!

     

    We used the Three Dog Bakery in Pleasanton, which was able to make us some wonderful Peanut Butter, Carob and Carrot flavored dog cakes.   

    February 08, 2008

    xmas.c

    I haven't done any major C programming in several years.  One of the programs that I squirreled away for over ten years is this xmas.c program.  I used code2html to make stuff look much prettier.

    The original text version is available here

    -------8<-----CUT-HERE------8<------------------------ 

    /* xmas.c
    Merry X-mas Everyone */


    #include <stdio.h>
    main(t,_,a)
    char *a;
    {
    return!0<t?t<3?main(-79,-13,a+main(-87,1-_,main(-86,0,a+1)+a)):
    1,t<_?main(t+1,_,a):3,main(-94,-27+t,a)&&t==2?_<13?
    main(2,_+1,"%s %d %d\n"):9:16:t<0?t<-72?main(_,t,
    "@n'+,#'/*{}w+/w#cdnr/+,{}r/*de}+,/*{*+,/w{%+,/w#q#n+,/#{l,+,/n{n+,/+#n+,/#\
    ;#q#n+,/+k#;*+,/'r :'d*'3,}{w+K w'K:'+}e#';dq#'l \
    q#'+d'K#!/+k#;q#'r}eKK#}w'r}eKK{nl]'/#;#q#n'){)#}w'){){nl]'/+#n';d}rw' i;# \
    ){nl]!/n{n#'; r{#w'r nc{nl]'/#{l,+'K {rw' iK{;[{nl]'/w#q#n'wk nw' \
    iwk{KK{nl]!/w{%'l##w#' i; :{nl]'/*{q#'ld;r#n'}{nlwb!/*de}'c \
    ;;{nl'-{}rw]'/+,}##'*}#nc,',#nw]'/+kd'+e}+;#'rdq#w! nr'/ ') }+}{rl#'{n' ')# \
    }'+}##(!!/")
    :t<-50?_==*a?putchar(31[a]):main(-65,_,a+1):main((*a=='/')+t,_,a+1)
    :0<t?main(2,2,"%s"):*a=='/'||main(0,main(-61,*a,
    "!ek;dc i@bK'(q)-[w]*%n+r3#l,{}:\nuwloca-O;m .vpbks,fxntdCeghiry"),a+1);
    }

    /* Here's The Output


    On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    six geese a-laying, five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    seven swans a-swimming,
    six geese a-laying, five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming,
    six geese a-laying, five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming,
    six geese a-laying, five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    ten lords a-leaping,
    nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming,
    six geese a-laying, five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping,
    nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming,
    six geese a-laying, five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.

    On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
    twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping,
    nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming,
    six geese a-laying, five golden rings;
    four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves
    and a partridge in a pear tree.


    */

    syntax highlighted by Code2HTML, v. 0.9.1

    February 07, 2008

    Hello.. is there anybody in here?

    somafm 

    Internet Radio is not a really new thing, but I might as well mention one of my all time favorites.  I started listening to SomaFM in 2000 when I ran across it online while looking for information on a Thievery Corporation CD.  My personal favorites are Groove Salad and Secret Agent, but the site has an incredible selection of eclectic radio streams.  During the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa / Festivus season they host the X-mas in Frisco stream, that has many novelty and humorous holiday themed songs.  Any program that can stream mp3 content will work just fine.  I've used WinAMP, iTunes and Windows Media player to get to the stream depending on my work location and type of computer I'm attaching to the stream.  Even with XM radio at home (over DirectTV), I still haven't heard the diversity of music that I hear on any of their streams.

    The proprietor of this service, Rusty Hodge, has become quite the activist in regards to protecting the rights of the small Internet broadcaster. With CARP, the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, it was really quite possible that the small broadcaster would go silent.  Without the likes of Rusty, we would be stuck with craptastic FM radio.

    I have spent many a late night at work fueled by too many Red Bull or Rockstar beverages, and used Groove Salad as chill out material.   In that heightened state of consciousness I can almost imagine that it is the same music that some techno-hero-sysadmin would be listening to in a Cory Doctorow novel.  Thanks Rusty!

     

     

    February 06, 2008

    FAIL!

    Many people are already aquianted with Despair, Inc.'s de-motivational posters.  You may have seen them in some random geeks office or online.

    cat 

    They are now providing a much needed service of allowing you to create mini de-motiviational posters in JPEG from.  Their website is here: http://diy.despair.com/motivator.php 

    Huzzah! 

    Thank you to JD the cat for posing. 

    Some other amusing web sites that may keep you busy on a boring day include:


     


    February 05, 2008

    Get the college credits where you can!

     

    In my workplace, I have several co-workers that are going back to school to finish their undergraduate education.  I keep a lookout for them to see what type of resources are available for them to finish their Bachelor's degree faster.  Recently Global Knowledge, who is well known for their technical training courses, partnered up with San Diego State University (SDSU) to provide college credit for many of their courses.  The upshot for many tech workers going back for a degree in IT/IS/MIS/CS/etc, is that at many companies the technical training is easier to aquire than support for going back to college at night.  As I write this, I count 81 different courses available for college credit.  Since SDSU is accredited by WASC, these units should have no problem transferring to most schools, but matriculation agreements vary from school to school.  While this is not the cheapest solution for credit, if someone else is footing the bill, you would be silly not to take advantage of it.

    Here are a few links:


    There are also other ways of finishing college at a faster pace, in ways more suited  for working adults.  The CLEP program is offered by the College Board in a similar fashion to the AP system for high school students.  When a student passes the test for a subject, it is possible for that to count for a number of units, which can then be transferred to the college of your choice.  While I am a big supporter of young people going and having a college experience on a brick and mortar campus for their undergraduate education, this can be incredibly helpful in getting veterans and working parents through their degree program in a shorter period of time.  Tests are available in Composition and Literature, Foreign Languages, History and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, as well as Business, which could get you done with your first year of college in a few weeks of studying and testing.  Another program called DSST (which I believe used to be called DANTES) is available through Prometric.  While it seems similar to the CLEP, I do not personally know anyone who has taken one of their exams.

     

    February 04, 2008

    Wi-Fi coming to BART

    From the fun fellows at the BART RAGE blog, I'm hearing that there is ongoing testing of a BART Wi-Fi network outside of the four main San Francisco underground stations.  The link to the Wireless Developer Network article is here.  While $30 USD/month is a bit steep for my taste, it is better than a sharp stick in the eye.  If WiFi Rail were to partner with an organization such as T-mobile or AT&T, I think a lot of other people might look into getting this service, but at $30/month it better work at Starbucks or the airport too.

    Train in Civic Center BART 

    I'm really happy to hear this, as several years ago I tried the T-Mobile GPRS data service while commuting on BART.  I'd get connectivity for about 12-15 minutes of the 55 minute train ride. Boo. Hiss.  There is nothing more fun than 1000ms+ ping times.

    For those of you outside of Northern California, this most likely be of no interest unless you'll be using BART to get to/from SFO.

    You go, Tae Bo, Meebo!

    Wow, what a terrible title, eh?  My 8th grade journalistm teacher would frown upon such terrible  usage of alliteration.  Anyways... those who have the pleasure of working with me directly, know that I love Meebo's service.  Being able to aggregate all of your various IM accounts into one web interface is pretty awesome.  Many organizations have explicit policies regarding usage of P2P and instant messenger applications.  While it is a matter of symantics, it allows you to do your personal or work related IM activity on a computer that you wouldn't want to install an IM client on.  The  Meebo Repeater software package can allow you to do IM'ing from places where meebo and other  services are blocked at the firewall or internal proxy server.  Doing IM from random web cafe locations can be a bit safer using Meebo instead of using the IM software loaded on the systems on site.  I had used Trillian, GAIM and Pidgin extensively in the past, so I didn't know what to expect.  The fact that meebo uses a heavily modified GAIM as part of their infrastructure lends credibility to how awesome their service is.  

    Meebo Screenshot from their photo stream

    (image courtesy of the Meebo Flickr Photo Stream) 

    I don't use their add-on toys, Meebo rooms or chatlog features, but I can see that many people would find that interesting and/or useful.  If I am at a location in which I want to get on the Internet, but don't have my laptop with me, my method of choice is to boot up a system with Knoppix or Damn Small Linux, then use Firefox to get to Meebo.  DSL linux will actually fit on a thumb drive as well, so you can carry a clean operating environment on you keychain.

     

    Spock.com - Live long and prosper?


    Over the last few months I have been playing around with the social network aggregator Spock.  In the usual Web 2.0 style, they are still in beta.  Another Web 2.0 service you say, why should I even play with this or what is it good for?  

     Spock

    Here are a few things that I really like about Spock.

    1. It allows you to take ownership of information about you or attributed to you.  

    Did the Spock robot aggregate information from your MySpace profile and LinkedIn, but you don't like the goofy picture that became part of your profile?  Easy enough, create an account, and have that information removed. Other people can add content or vote about tags that are related to your profile, but in the end you can vote them down if you don't find them appropriate. 

    2. If you want to know things about yourself, but you are too lazy to Google yourself.
    The Spock robot constantly trawls the web to find information related to your name and tagged attributes.  When the robot has results, you can vote them down if they don't apply to you.  I found some things about myself through their robot search results that I've never found in Google or Yahoo search.  I found out that while my name is pretty unique, a relative with the same first and last name was born in Camden, New Jersey in 1848.  Who knew?  Thanks Spock!

    3. One way relationship links.  
    My wife likes Colin Firth.  If she had a profile on Spock she might create a link to Colin Firth with the attribute of "fan" or somesuch identifier of her love.  If someone were to look at Colin's profile, most likely created from the WikiPedia entry, there would be no back link to her profile, unless she created a secondard link.  Having symetrical link structures can be great in small amounts, but with one-way links you can have a link described by two people in different ways such as "student" and "teacher".

    4. Enthusiastic Staff

    You only have to be on Spock for about 30 seconds before you see that there are several Spock ambassadors spanning the world that have brought Spock into their daily (and sometimes hourly) life.  That's you Maia!

    5. Cute name
    I am sick of Web 2.0 phonetic soup and dig Star Trek.

     

     

    February 01, 2008

    NeXT up, a letter to Mr. Jobs

     

     

    Even back in 1988, I had excellent taste in computers.  I'd often ride my bicycle down to the local Businessland on De Anza Boulevard in Cupertino and play with the computers.  I still don't know why the sales staff never kicked me out, as I was not going to be able to afford their offerings.  It was at this computer store that I was first introduced to the NeXT computer.  At that point in my life I hadn't had access to any real UNIX machines.  I mean, I had played with A/UX running on a Macintosh II, but that wasn't a real experience.  The sexy magnesium case, the futuristic optical drive, and the high resolution display was enough to make a young boy's heart go aflutter.  At $6,500 USD this was nothing that I would be able to own, but I could still covet it.   In junior high school, you tend to think (or at least I did) that you are filled with incredible insights.  Due to the fact that I was not encumbered by attending high school yet, or being told that some ideas are stupid, I sat down and wrote Steve Jobs a letter.  In said letter I let Mr. Jobs know that he would have a better chance selling the computers if he added a 3.5" floppy drive and added support for a dot matrix printer.  I just didn't get what he was trying to do.  I wanted a cool computer that was inexpensive, while he was selling the design for the future, which nobody was buying in quantity just yet.  Whether or not Mr. Jobs read that letter directly, or even knew it was from a nerdy 7th grader, I will never know.  Sometimes I wish that I saved a copy of that letter, other times I am glad I didn't since I would most likely come off as an arrogant little twit.  I did get a nice form letter back from the corporate offices and a marketing poster that I cherished for many years.  

    When I entered my professional life of providing IT services to various parts of the government, I saw the tail end of the NeXT legacy.  I almost had a tear in my eye when I was visiting a nameless government agency that was a large NeXT customer.  They were dumping several thousand NeXT cubes and pizza boxes to move to Windows NT.  The computers were stacked to about chest height along the hallways, waiting for destruction. Oh, the humanity.

    If you are nostalgic, you might want to check out the original brochure.

     

    Probing for fun and profit

    While those that are sysadmins might already know the wonders of nmap, not everyone has had the pleasure of using this tool.  You know, it's the tool that totally l33t haxorz use to track midget spies and to hack into the matrix.   A computer security consulting firm called Sectegrity has provided a nice service by giving a web interface to nmap and several other probing tools.  They have things configured to only probe the host that you are accessing their website from, so you cannot light up someone else's IDS system or cause widespread panic. 

    nmap 

    Of course other tools like Gibson Research's Shields UP service can do similar things, but it doesn't give you the command line output, so you can't feel like you are hanging out with Sandra Bullock in The Net

     

    A few other tools that I think are fairly neat. 

    MyIPneighbors.com - See who else is being hosted on your ip address.

    Map of the Internet - A graphical representation of what part of the Internet your ip address resides. 

    Browser Spy - This site can tell you detailed information on your browser and your client machine.

    Privacy.net Analyzer - Another site that can help you find vulnerabilities on your client machines.

    Penetration Testing Framework - A checklist/plan for implementing a full penetration test.