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March 27, 2008

Spicy HOT Lanes

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the commute can be incredibly tedious.  Depending on my work location, I need to commute from 30 to 45 miles from my house, which in turn requires between 35 and 70 minutes of transit.  As often as I can I try to take mass transit (BART to San Francisco in my case) to reduce my fuel costs, bridge tolls, wear and tear on my vehicle, as well as stress from driving around a bunch of nutjobs.  With the advent of the Fastrak system of wireless toll collection in the SF Bay area, the possibility of paid toll lanes became possible.  Current rumors have the toll rates along Interstate 580 and 680 in the $4 to $5 USD range.  Would it be worth it to me to pay an extra five bucks to shave half an hour off my commute?  Heck yeah!  The only thing you lose out on this is anonymity.

HOT Lanes! 

Source for images and information: http://www.mtc.ca.gov/pdf/hot_lanes.pdf 

March 25, 2008

Radioactive Cats

One of my co-workers came across pictures of my cat on the Internet.  I'm glad that someone else could get a laugh out of it.

Ely 

I found this amusing, as I put this in a public folder, but didn't plan on people blogging it.

On a not-so-amusing note, our third cat had to go through the Iodine-131 treatment for hyperthyroidism.  Ka-Ching $$$.  Oh, and BTW Ely will steal your soul.  And if you are wondering why this picture was made, it was to thank Dr. Charlotte Sugar for taking such good care of Ely while he was in quarantine.

:)

http://www.mwdaily.net/2007/11/ely-will-eat-your-soul.html

March 24, 2008

When you can't melt it or crush it.

 

How often do these scenarios come up?

  • You want to donate a home PC that is a few years old to a charity, but you've processed your income taxes and other personal sensitive information on it.
  • You have to return a computer furnished for a project by a consulting customer at the end of a contract.  You had to run/develop proprietary software on that machine that is not included in the end deliverables. 
  • You have a new computer that you want to sell after reloading the OS, but you want to make sure that any personal information processed on that machine cannot be accessed later.  

One simple choice for the x86 crowd is Darik's Boot and Nuke aka DBAN.  This bootable Linux CD is distributed in an ISO file.  So all you need to do is burn it to a CD, boot it up, and trash all your data.  While the algorithms are very effective, if you need 100% risk avoidance, the best option is still pulling the drives out and smelting them into slag

DBAN is totally free, but if you have a business need that requires U.S. DoD 5220.22-M, Sarbanes Oxley, HIPAA, or FISMA compliance, you might want to try the supported version called EBAN, or Enterprise Boot and Nuke

My old light weight favorite, Autoclave, was discontinued by the University of Washington in 2002, but still works really well on older machines (i.e. pre-Y2K) you may have that can only boot from a floppy disk drive.

Zillow = My Monday buzzkill

One of the worst things you can do on a beautiful almost-spring Monday morning is look up your housing value on Zillow.  The same site that made everyone giddy as a schoolgirl when the market was sky high, now documents the titanic dump that the real estate market is taking.  As I crawl into the corner and crawl into the fetal position, I keep chanting "I'm in for the long haul, I'm in for the long haul."

Housing Market Implosion 

I feel for the people in Stockton.  Economics stops being theoretical and becomes very personal when you start hearing about people losing their homes by the hundreds... 

March 22, 2008

Nerd Camp

 

When I was a wee lad in Junior High School, my mother found an interesting summer camp in the local paper.  This "inventors" camp was hosted at Cogswell College, when it was still using the campus on Bubb Road in Cupertino (where UC Santa Cruz Extension satellite campus is located now).  Every weekday for a while, I'd ride my bike down the freight train tracks to arrive each day for a whole lot of eye opening.  Sitting in college classrooms and filling our heads with knowledge.  Playing in the computer lab and pirating Apple ][ software (I'm sure the camp didn't approve that one).  We had full reign of the facility and enthusiastic camp leaders who really treated us like little little inquisitive adults, instead of silly kids.  We even had sessions on patent law, but I don't think the intellectual property law stuff really registered in our middle school brains.  ;)

 Hubble Space Telescope

(Photo Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Some of the fun day trips we were taken on included:


The reason I've been thinking about this particular incredible summer has to do with my overall educational experience from K-12.  Experiences like this camp helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life, more than any class or guidance counselor in school could have ever given me.  While traditional school prepared me for the rigors of the college academic life, it never helped me make the connections between the practical applications of math and science in a career setting.  Thanks for signing me up Mom!

If you are a parent stumbling across this, think about enriching your child's educational experience beyond the scope of their school.  Sites like (http://www.bayareakidfun.com/pages/campsscience.html) can help you find a fun place for you child to find some inspirations and have fun.

It looks as if Cogswell has continued on the summer camp tradition in spirit.

Spies in the Ether

Bart Lee (KV6LEE) has written a very interesting paper titled Radio Spies - Episodes in the Ether Wars, which goes into the history of SIGINT, or the art of signal interception for intelligence uses. Whether or not you are interested in government secrecy, Bart Lee does an excellent job of explaining how radio communication technology help to get the decisive edge in several military conflicts.

 

The link is here: 
http://www.trft.org/TRFTPix/spies9eR2006.pdf

March 19, 2008

My father-in-law is a badass.

I'm lucky to have a great Father-in-law.  He also happens to be pretty badass.

Nothing like a nail from a compressor driven nail gun shooting through your finger to ruin your day.  After a few minutes with some pliers and some hydrogen peroxide he was back to work.   

Oh, and I forgot to mention that he eats broken glass, drinks gasoline, and picks his teeth with strike anywhere matches. 

March 18, 2008

Come back later. loldog?

Sleeping.  Go away.

 

 

March 10, 2008

An end to Wi-Fi hotspots???

According to this article Ericsson predicts the end of the Wi-Fi wireless hotspots.  It makes sense for a large Telco vendor to make this argument, but it really doesn't hold water as an argument.  As free Wi-Fi hotspots abound and the price of paid Wi-Fi service approaches zero with a food/beverage purchase, how will the trumph free and semi-anonymous access?  For some people the free factor makes it worth the annoyance of spotty coverage or annoying captive portals.

March 09, 2008

I am the walrus, koo koo ca choo

Time to take another trip back in the time machine...

Recently I was working on a project that involved setting up a 56kbps X.25 leased line (I know, very embarassing!), which it turns out is not supported by AT&T in Northern California anymore.  This got me thinking back to my high school days.  You see, growing up in Cupertino was a nerds dream.  All of the parents worked in some sort of high tech venture and pushed for the best of everything in regards to their kids education.  (Four options for the educational path of my Asian friends: 1. Doctor 2. Lawyer 3. Engineer 4. Disowned/Disembowelment)  Sometimes it seemed like Apple computer delivered units by the dump truck load.  High home values led to higher property tax revenues, which in turn led to really decent school funding. 

Through some sort deal, the school received a grant from NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View to provide us with network connectivity.  So we had our leased line installed and down plopped a Sun 3/60 workstation (with Black and White frame buffer nonetheless and running in text mode) that served the school as an e-mail and ftp server.  All the things that kids take for granted today... DNS, HTTP, graphical user interfaces (it wasn't even running X-windows, since it was stripped down to be a server), high speed networks, firewalls, and tons of other stuff wasn't even thought about.  This machine was the infamous walrus.mvhs.edu machine before the Fremont Union High School District pulled the rug out of the mvhs.edu domain name and took control of the IT infrastructure across the district. 

What did the kids get out of it?  Live shell access on a real live Sun box, tons of storage for all the ROL and Scream Tracker files you could download from ftp sites all over the world, oh and you could use Gopher.  I'm pretty sure that the goal wasn't to have the students do that, but hey, we didn't get into that much trouble.  Gopher sucked then and still pretty much sucks, but hey, we had it.  Before ICQ, YIM, AIM and the other instand messengers, there was IRC.  What we had was amazing, unfettered and unmonitored network access.  Whether they realized it or not, they were treating young adolescents as responsible adults, which was appreciated.  With DSL, Cable Modems, 3G cell phone networks and other ways of getting fast IP connectivity these days, I'm not sure if kids these days understand the giddy feeling you got from watching the hash marks fly across the screen on your ftp session to Finland.  Getting called out of Mike Ivanitsky's Chemisty Honors class to do some mundane unix task was truly an amazing feeling.  (BTW: R.I.P. Mike Ivanitsky, you were a decent teacher, I just hated Chemistry). 

Just think about it, it was your tax payer dollars at work to get me to learn SunOS.  What do I do now?  I manage large clusters of Solaris and *nix systems for the government.  Pretty good ROI

I fear that schools in Nigeria may be more adept at unix like systems than kids in the US.  Kids, there is more to computing than MS Office and Facebook.

(Image Courtesy of hack.org) 

March 08, 2008

Text to the future

Lately I've been thinking about the old days when you were getting on the BBS systems ultra fast at 2400bps and making fun of your fellow dorks for only getting only at 1200bps. 

Experiencing the Internet in text takes a bit of getting used to.  The old handy friend for browsing HTTP pages on the command line is Lynx.  Noted for it's speed and simplicity, you can access the text-internet with almost no bandwidth.       

 

 And if you are trying to surf the web from a real VT100 terminal, this is the only game in town!

 

(Picture courtesty of vt100.net

March 07, 2008

100BaseFire

I'm sure many of you have seen the infamous Etherkiller on the web, as it was passed around eons ago.  I still am amused by people hooking live 110 Volt AC up to data circuits, as long as it isn't my equipment.

A quote from the site:

"It all started one day with this guy, the origional Etherkiller, developed with a few misc parts to warn new users that the IT department is not to be messed with. You too can make one at home, connect the transmit pins of the RJ-45 to HOT on 110VAC and the recieve pins to Common. Modify to suit case by varying pinout."

W00T! For the young ones, you might want to reference The Bastard Operator From Hell, to find out why some maladjusted lads enter the IT workforce in the first place.

False Alarm

This morning I was minding my own business when I received an e-mail from my firewall stating that:

From: firewall@teh.internet.tubes
To: alerter@chickenpotpieacousticsystems.net
Subject: NetScreen Mail Alert

Alarm Logs Reported From: homefirewall
Event Alarms:
   1. 2008-03-06 07:46:15 system-alert-00008:  IP Spoof, From 86.117xx.xx/1031 to 205.181.yy.yy/2746, protocol UDP (i/f trust) occurred 2 times

I'm thinking to myself, "oh crap, I've got malware", or even worse, "oh crap, I've got a misconfigured intruder".  I'm quite used to folks on the the internet trying to portscan my network, but traffic originating on my home network is a whole different game.

I calm down for a second and search for the netblock owner of the IP address range.  I calm down even more, as it turns out to be my wife's laptop VPN trying to connect and pass traffic back to the corporate office in Switzerland at the same time.  I am quite calm now, and sip my delicious Nespresso.  All is good in the world once again.

DVR != TiVo

 

Several months ago my DirectTivo finally gave up the ghost.  Beyond a hard drive crash, the MPEG decoder board was starting to go wacky several weeks before the final and bloody death.  I called DirectTV to see if I could get a replacement and I was told that the Tivo units were now legacy and that I would have to use their new DVR unit if I wanted a replacement.  Being an open minded lad, I decided to give it a try.  After the first week, we were beamed a software upgrade that made the DirectTV.  While the R15 unit we have at home only crashes about once every 4 to 6 weeks now, the scheduler absolutely sucks.  I am not an expert in regards to what patents that Tivo holds in the DVR product space, but it didn't patent the fact of a DVR working correctly.

Originally I chose DirectTV as my television provider.  1.) They had an exclusive on Tivo technology 2.) I hate Comcast Cable.  My wife can attest that I have a healthy dislike for Comcast, but that is fodder for another post. 

At this point in time I am very dissatisfied with my service, but I'm locked in for another 18 months or so.   Without the Tivo angle, television is a commodity and I might as well shop around the other satellite providers or even the local cable tv provider (*gasp*, yes that is how much I hate this DVR).  Or I might end up having to go to MythTV or some other system like that, but I don't want to explain another system to houseguests.

Rupert Murdoch, stop the insanity!  That other DVR company you bought really sucks, please don't force that crap down our throat.  Just be done with it and buy Tivo.  At least the DirectTivo units ran Linux on them, and a geek could feel good about watching TV on something that Linus Torvalds had indirectly touched.  If Dish network had Tivo built in to their receivers I'd be on the phone with them this second...   

Lesson Learned.  I should have googled for this crapbox before I signed up for it:

engadget.com 

weaknees blog 

March 05, 2008

This Summer's Forecast: Brownouts

As Winter turns to Spring, and Spring into Summer, data center managers in California have one thing on their minds: Rolling Blackouts.  Whether it be unseasonably hot this year in California or just regular, make sure your UPS batteries are fresh, your diesel tanks are full and your web browser open to the California ISO: System Status page.  It is your taxpayer dollars at work, use it!

 

 

Link Here. 

March 03, 2008

Cat Shaving, Fun for the whole family

As summer approaches, it is time to think about cleaning and sharpening the clippers.  Clippers, you say?  Yes, it is almost time for the annual cat shaving.  Being that I have allergies, and Ely doesn't groom himself that well, we opt for the most direct route to hygeine...

 

 Here is the link.

No animals were harmed in the making of this video, or generally in our household.

Note: Hello to our friends at Microsoft Live Operations! 

Is free music the key to music industry profits???

NIN 

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails has now one-upped Radiohead in the realm of free online music.  While Radiohead provided their music in a downloadable non-DRM package with the option to buy a real packaged physical CD, Reznor has created a package with all the album source materials on data DVD discs as well as slideshows and other neat stuff.

An interesting blog posting on this is available at TechBlorge.

Update.  I just received the download email (edited of course):

From:"NIN Store" <support@store.nin.com>
To: xxx@spectrox.com
Subject: Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I download link
Date: Mon, 03 Mar 2008 07:26:51 -0800
Thank you for your interest in Ghosts I. To download your files, click on the link below. If the link below is not clickable, copy it and paste it into your web browser's address bar.

http://ninstore.cpdev.sudjam.com/download/order?id=xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
                                                     
Note: Your download will be a zip file. The zip file contains all the music, the PDF, and some extra content. If you are using Mac OS X or Windows XP/Vista, just double-click on the zip file once it's downloaded, and it will open the folder with your content. You can also use free "unzipping" software like StuffIt for Mac and WinZip for Windows.

Update March 13, 2008:

The Chicago Tribune reports that Trent Reznor has already made $1.6 Million USD from the download of his album.  W00T! 

Update March 27, 2008:

WIRED Magazine has an article titled "Reznor vs. Radiohead: Innovation Smackdown" 

March 01, 2008

Tiny little products to make travel fun

When I'm travelling, I try to go as light as possible.  It is hard to be a carry-on only type traveller in the United States these days with the liquid requirements, but with tiny little toiletries it is possible.  Sometimes I repackage my toiletries in smaller containers, but sometimes I get the tiny trial-size versions of the products that I love.  Minimus has built their whole business on this concept.  Instead of paying too much at the hotel or airport for an once to toothpaste, you can get a tiny amount of the brand you like for a reasonable price. 

 

While you can get in-flight power on most planes these days in Business or First class, most Airlines that I fly on do not have power available in coach.  In Flight Power makes this cool little gadget that pulls voltage off of the airplane's headphone jack at your seat.  With this you can charge your cell phone, PSP, iPod/mp3 player or whatever other low current device you'd like to use on the flight.