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April 29, 2009

Swine Flu

Who would have thought that Michael Jackson's usage of surgical masks would have been some forward thinking fashion choice.  If SARS and the Avian Influenza were not bad enough to scare you, the Swine Flu is here to stay. While many would shrug this off as crazy, if you look at the history of the 1918/1919 Spanish Flu outbreak, approximately 25 million people died in the first 25 weeks of the pandemic.  That is in the age before same day transit between continents via commercial airliners.  Scary. 

Swine Flu 

(Photo Courtesy of sarihuella on Flickr)

A great resource on the subject is the CDC Swine Flu page.  This is a clearinghouse of information and links about the current outbreak.



April 27, 2009

IED removal, FCC approved

What's this?  Just your friendly neighborhood non-jamming, FCC approved bomb neutralizer unit.  While wideband RF jamming units can often time cause IED and other explosive units to detonate, California based Protective Systems provides a unit that can safely neutralize ordinance.     



April 23, 2009

Resolution Revolution

Just when you upgraded to HDTV you thought you were all set.  You get your high end TV with 1080p resolution and 120Hz refresh and think it will be top of the line for a long time. 



 (Picture Courtesy of Triotex on Flickr)

Several manufacturers have higher resultion digital displays in the works.  Standards are already in the works for 2160p and 4320p resolution television sets.  While those standards will most likely be a few decades off from being broadcast over the air without and major leaps in digital compression, other services that provide television and movies over IP links such as Netflix might be able to thrive by offering content for this.  

April 18, 2009

Ye Olde LOLcat

Pointed out by an astute poster, this relic is one of the oldest LOLcats on file.



April 17, 2009

I tweet a spy!

With more an more people using Twitter as a fun Web 2.0 communication tool, it is becoming a mainstream way of talking.  For some people it is becoming an addiction and supercedes e-mail and instant messenger as a way to communicate in groups.  Hey, if the President used it and the NASA Mars Rover is using it, it must be great, right?

Enter TwitterSpy, a cool mashup application that takes the raw public Twitter feed and allows you to filter it for content or context.  Michele Marcucci created this incredibly addicting application as a practical application of her knowledge.   


Be careful what you tweet, as there are more people than just your close friends watching!  Remember, the walls of social networking are very thin, and can be redefined by the service provider at their whim. 

April 16, 2009

Soul of a city

Every once in a while you run across the work of someone that is able to channel to soul of a city through their work.  For San Francisco, this medium is a fellow by the name of Thomas Hawk, which in turn uses digital photography as his medium... 

I have never met Thomas or run into him in the business world, but I really dig his art.  If you browse through his Flickr photostream it seems as if he is at every major event in San Francisco.  Photography is funny in that it can really give the viewer a vivid representation of what the artist is feeling and experiencing at the time the shutter clicks.  Here are a few of my favorite photos, all images are licensed through Creative Commons for Non-Commercial use and include a link back to the original photo.  Enjoy!






April 15, 2009

Free resources for secure web browsing (in insecure locations)

If you travel often, this scenario pops up often:

You get free access to the internet at a hotel or coffee shop, but worry about people sniffing the connection.  

Even when you use SSL, it is a pain that people can do a traffic analysis on your surfing, attempt a session hijack based on your credentials, or even worse, act as a man-in-the-middle and log every bit of your surfing.  Many corporate entities require the use of a VPN to tunnel all internet traffic through the headquarters network connection, so they can filter traffic the way they want to and do their best to protect your system from malware and probing.

If you are trying to be secure on a budget, one solution that I've worked with requires three packages.

Using this scenario, you install Privoxy, which works as a personal web proxy, on a *nix or Windows on a machine that resides at your home or office.  That same machine will also need to be running a ssh server.  Depending on your network architecture, you'll either need a firewall rule to allow port 22 (ssh) through to that machine, or if you have a NAT in place, you'll need a PAT or pinhole to that system through the firewall(If you choose to use a port other than 22, you will receive far less port scans and hacking attempts on your system.)

When configuring Privoxy, you'll want to select and some high port such as 8000 or 8888 to connect to Privoxy through.  In the version I have, they use the default of port 8118.  The reason that you would use the loopback address, is that it will only accept traffic from inside the machine.  If you have the SSH server on another machine, you'll want to use the address of one of the ethernet adapters.  On many Linux installations, you'll be editing /etc/privoxy/config

#        a snippet from /etc/privoxy/config
#        listen-address


At this point you should have the firewall configured, a ssh server running, and Privoxy up and running.

The next step is to connect to your ssh/privoxy machine over the internet.  In this example we'll use putty under win32, but you could be on OS X or Linux and use ssh at the command line to do tunneling.


Once you have that ssh connection up and running, you'll need to connect your web browser to the proxy server.  On your side you'll be using your own ip loopback adapter at  Normally you would NOT want to check the box that states Local Ports accept connections from other hosts, unless you are trying to provide proxy services to a large amount of machines through one ssh connection.

You can manually setup a proxy server in Firefox or IE, but I prefer to use Foxyproxy, which allows you to change settings on the fly, or also do proxying based on specific traffic rules.  So if you want to visit www.cnn.com without going through the proxy, but only go to www.gmail.com through the proxy, you can do that.  If you have limited upstream bandwidth on your privoxy host, this may be a good solution.

Configuration of Foxyproxy is fairly simple.  Once the add-on is installed, you'll want to create a new proxy entry.  That entry will point towards port 8888 (or whatever port you have chosen).  Once it is saved, you can turn the proxying on and off by using the right mouse button on the menu on the lower right hand side of Firefox.  You can create some fairly complex patterns for web surfing, but that is beyond the scope of this posting.  





So, what do we get from this?  If someone is sniffing your home connection, you are out of luck.  But if you configure the connection as I have stated, every web site you surf to, will be tunneled through your ssh connection, then proxyed by the privoxy machine.  If you have other applications that run outside of your browser, you may have to reconfigure them to point to the localhost proxy on your machine so that they will be secure as well.  So, someone sniffing your connection will just see ssh traffic from your machine to that host and nothing else.  Even if someone is running a rogue WiFi AP so they can perform and man-in-the-middle attack, all they will get is a bunch of garbage from your ssh connection.

April 14, 2009

Absolute Data Destruction

Some people like to work in absolutes.  They don't want to have a high statistical likelihood that data is unrecoverable, they want that data gone with 100% certainty.  Beyond smelting, most of the methods for the destruction of hard drives and other storage media include secure overwriting or degaussing.  To fill the gap, Data Devices created the Model 0301 Hard Drive, Laptop, and Cellular Phone Shredder.  The behemoth eats electronic devices and digests them into small bits of robot poop.  You have to see the video to get the real feel for this thing.



I was on travel last week and needed to stay connected to the Internet.  I'm usually pretty cheap when it comes to broadband and try to get free WiFi or stay in a hotel that provides internet access with the room.  This trip I wasn't going to have that kind of luck, so I looked into a few different roaming WiFi providers.  I had heard of Boingo before, and looked into it once again.  They have slashed their access charges for unlimited service right to the bone.  They have an unlimited plan for $9 per month that rides on several other service providers networks, including T-mobile.  Yes, so instead of paying T-mobile's monthly plan or for a day of access, you get a month of access through Boingo.  For me this give me quite a lot of value, as both airports I am flying through and the hotel I am staying at are all served by T-mobile.  The unlimited access at Starbucks is pretty sweet as well.  By unlimited they mean 3000 minutes a month, which is really quite a deal.  Who is going to run Bittorrent at the airport?  Overall, the bandwidth and performance was great.  I was able to connect with both 802.11b/g and 802.11a at both SFO and LAX, which is impressive.  

April 06, 2009


I was sitting at SFO waiting for a flight (and trying to find a working power outlet in the International Terminal), and ran across this old cartoon.  So there is a 66% chance I am crazy. 



April 03, 2009

DirectTV VOD

In January we decided to take the leap to HDTV at the ranch.  Since we already had DirecTV at our place, we decided to just upgrade our main DVR/receiver to HD.  Although it was zero cost for us, they had to spend half a day installing a new dish on our roof (and they actually properly grounded everything per the NEC code, that is amazing!).  We received a HR22 receiver, which was pretty sweet for a non-Tivo unit.  I wrote about my experiences with the SD version of this box in my blog last year.  The cool thing about that box, is that if you hook up an ethernet connection to the Internet, you can receive video on demand (VOD), from DirectTV.  The selection is middle of the road, but they have a large cluster of SD and HD content.  The really cool part is that they are starting to deliver pay per view HD movies as well as 1080P HD content over that link.  The VOD interface is available from the channel guide or from stand alone section of the main menu. 


You can also select VOD content to be downloaded to your DVR from DirecTV's web page.

 Bad Viewing habits in HD

While the interface isn't incredibly intuitive, it does work and after a while you get used to it.  Last night I decided to try downloading two episodes of Ax Men in HD, after one of my co-workers mentioned how cool the show was.  While you can watch shows while they are downloading, I decided to let them go full course before taking a look.  I use MRTG to monitor my home network usage, so I decided to see how much bandwidth was used during the download period of time.  I am very happy to say that DirecTV's servers were able to completely saturate my ADSL link.  Normally when my link is somewhat idle it has about 10kbps of traffic from various server machines, and only spikes a bit during large downloads or when my wife is on her work VPN.  As you can see in the MRTG graph below it took about 3 hours or so to download two HD episodes, each episode being 45 minutes, so with my network I'm at about 1/2 real time.   I guess it is time to get a DS3 at home.   


April 01, 2009

Magnetic Dreams


At a previous job, I had a co-worker that had some issues with insomnia.  This guy is an incredibly gifted engineer and musician.  He spent many a sleepless night thinking about what would stimulate his brain to create the correct harmonics to trigger a sound sleep.  The end product of his research was a coil that encircled the bed that was supposed to trigger certain sleep states through the manipulation of magnetic fields and such.  We didn't know what to think about it, but were very happy when he started sleeping soundly.


(Photo Courtesy of Bistrosavage on Flickr)

Recently I came across this article in the New Scientist in regards to brain activity during sleep and irregular dreams due to geomagnetic field spikes.  Maybe Steve's reverse guitar pickup brain wave dream inducer was way ahead of it's time!