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October 20, 2008

QWERTY security

Absolute security is a myth.  Most laymen would think that just because a computer device is wired that it has a higher level of security.  In most cases this would be true, but in the shadowy world of corporate espionage the stakes have gone one higher. At The Security and Cryptography Laboratory (LASEC) of Ecoles Polytechniques Fédérales de Lausanne, they recently released a paper called COMPROMISING ELECTROMAGNETIC EMANATIONS OF WIRED KEYBOARDS.  While this is not big news in the TEMPEST world, it is an eye opener for most businesses.  The scope of keyboard technologies affected, as well as the distance that keystrokes can be read is really quite impressive.


(Photo Credit: Andrew* on Flickr)

In a nutshell: Your hard wired stuff is not safe, but it never really was.  Try to mitigate your risks as much as possible and stay informed.



October 17, 2008

Spelling Errors

When I was in my first year of college I was working part time at a defense firm that would end up shaping my career.  When you are young and new to a group, you take things at face value and assume that intelligence is at play.  At least I did.  Anyways...

One of the contracts the firm was working on had to do with a software package called costumer.  I took it at face value, but wondered if it was some secretive government codeword, or some elaborate project name to mask the identity of the end user.  About six months into my employment I asked about the program name and learned the humorous truth.  A young programmer was told to generate an executable file for their customer.  Being literal, yet spelling impaired, the programmer generated costumer.exe.  Once it was delivered, it was set in stone.  It wasn't a spelling error, but a well thought out program name. 


(Photo courtesy of locket479 on Flickr)

I wouldn't be suprised one bit if the legacy of this lives on.  I recently ran into a current version of software that was generated at that firm (which is defunct now), that is still in use today after almost two decades.  I wonder if they see the sad jokes are still built into the source code [i.e. using the variable willy, so that you can free(willy)].

October 09, 2008

Online photo safety / Identity Theft

I was searching through Flickr today and was looking at some ultrasound images of babies that are right about as far along as ours.  Some really nice shots (32,515 of them actually).  And then I gasped.  Did they?  Yes, they did.  


Parents, don't post ultrasounds on public forums with the Social Security Number of the mother attached.  I know this sounds pretty basic, but some people may gloss over it without thinking.  The hospital can protect your information with HIPAA, but when you put it out there, there is nothing they can do to help you.  Even if it is just your name, a random billing code and the medical facility name, why even risk identity theft?  There is no excuse in Flickr, as you can use Picnik (a great online photo editor) to edit it out or just crop it.  


October 08, 2008

Linux fanboy alert: Linus has a blog

It may be worth noting that the famed inventor of Linux and Silicon Valley Portland, Oregon resident (Thanks for the correction!), Linus Torvalds has a personal blog.  In the Open Source development community people cower in fear and revere the name of Linus, the creator of  Linux



October 07, 2008

Real Estate


(Photo Courtesy of etrusia_uk on Flickr)

Recently I was reading through the old paperwork associated with the Deed to our house and land under it.  We live in an area that was turned into a subdivision after WWII and built in the early 1960's.  The legalese is amusing.  We are forbidden from having these items on our property:

  • A Basement
  • Livestock (Fowl, Goats, Sheep, etc.)
  • A House of Ill Repute.

 I think I can live with the fact that we can't put a brothel for ducks in our basement.

October 03, 2008


In late August, Byonics started selling the fully assembled SMT version of the TinyTrak4 APRS tracker.  I put in an order last week and received it on Friday.  Since I was using a TinyTrak3Plus previously this was an easy swap.  I have been messing with this over the past few weeks and have had a great amount of success.  I am finding that the smartbeaconing is working a bit differently (less beacons on the same track with the same settings as the TT3+), but overall it is a drop in replacement. I'm looking forward to the addition of the digipeater to the tracker in the coming months.  Here is a track of my morning commute across the Bay Bridge using the TinyTrak4 connected to a Duleo GPS  and a Kenwood G707A installed in my truck.



October 02, 2008

Changing horses midstream

A few months I had a chance to listen to a keynote speech by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter at a company event.  You may recognize his name as guitarist from the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.  You may also be really confused as to why this guy was speaking at a conference that I would be at.  You see, halfway through his career, Jeff took a passing interesting into ballistic missile defense and began a course of self study.  His non-establishment thinking allowed him to make some connections that others had not seen, which culminated in several white papers and a consulting gig with the US Department of Defense. 


(Photo: Public Domain: Missile Launch by USN, 2007 - DoD 070622-N-XXXXX-004)

While we could have a long discussion about "thinking outside the box" and the equivalent of scientific "outsider art", I'm going to go in a different direction with this post.  I think what Jeff shows is that with enough willpower and enthusiasm you can completely change your career.  Given that he most likely enjoyed being a rock star and fostered his enthusiasm in missile technology, other people despise their jobs, but are stuck to them because they cannot afford to pay the rent while not working. 

Within the last ten years the advent of online learning has gone from a novelty to a fully accepted reality.  It is possible to receive the education and training required to completely change your career, all while working at the job you can't stand.  What is required here is setting your priorities and your goals.  It can be so easy to become mired in a mindset in which you feel that you have been doing the same job for so long that you can't do anything else.  Once you are over that hurdle, you'll find that the things that are required (i.e. Money, time, family support, etc.) will come much easier when you have chosen your path.   


On a side note:  For those who scoff at an outsider's ideas, take a look at the logical progression of Skunk's white paper on using the Aegis battle command system as the core of a missile defense system, to the scenario that was used in Feb 2008 to take down a dangerous malfunctioning satellite.


October 01, 2008

Mr. F has found a home

For those who have been following the Mr. F saga, we have finally found him a home.  That home is with our loving family.  Unfortunately we did not find a home that would be able to take care of this plump dumpling of a cat in the luxury he is used to, so we've decided to keep him here at Rancho Relaxo. 

We've had to make some ADA compliant accomodations in our home to deal with a cat of this girth.  The first to go was the pet door to our garage (where the cat boxes are located). A quick trip to Home Depot to replace the size small pet door with a medium dog door did the trick.  The issue here is to have a big door, but not too big.  Dogs love the faux almond roca that cats produce.  Nuff said. 

Mr. F has been on a diet and has lost some weight (down to 21lbs!!!) since he came to our simple home and is beginning to fit in with the other residents.  He is an interesting feline.  He is cross eyed.  He is lovable.  He can be a demon sometimes, resembling the character "Stuart" played by Michael McDonald on MadTV.  However, Mr. F does not talk about funny feelings in his goo goo.