January 24, 2020

Random Notes - January 2020

Here are a few random notes for today.  They are really for my use, but if you find them interesting, hooray.

I have been using Ubuntu Linux and derivatives for the last decade or so.  I've played with X/L/Ubuntu and other derivatives over the last few years and recently played with Ubuntu-mate on an old anemic laptop.  I really like the experience and it works on antique hardware.  As a side note, I played with AntiX, and while it was VERY fast on junk hardware, the networking left a lot to be desired.

My kids use Chromebooks in school and their district has invested in the Google Edu suite.  I don't own any Chromebooks, but I found that you can make your own with an older laptop using NeverWhere's CloudReady chromium distribution.  It is pretty lightweight and works pretty well on the hardware that I've tried.

I am a licensed ham radio operator, but haven't been really active in the past few years.  I was reading a recent article in QST regarding a Ukrainian Transverter company that build boards to do TX/RX frequency translation for many ham radio bands.  I own a 10m SSB rig, but don't have SSB equipment for VHF.  This is an inexpensive way to play with non-FM modes on VHF.

AI is cool and creepy at the same time.  An application of AI generative adversarial networks is here.

Once you cannot update or patch an old phone, tablet or iPad it becomes a security liability.  Other than going to a landfill, an interesting application is to use it as an electronic mirror.

I like to camp with my family, but we are really not in a position to purchase an RV or store one at our house.  A vehicle like this would be pretty fun for weekend adventures.

February 02, 2014

Chromecast on Linux

I was recently pondering purchasing a Google Chromecast unit to mess around with at home.  The price is so low that they are almost giving them away.  I assume that is so Google can harvest your viewing habits and resell them, but that is another story.  Originally I was thinking about using a Raspberry Pi unit with XMBC to do media streaming, but as cool as it is, I don't have the time to install, configure and train my family... even if it is way cooler and would give me way more geek cred.  While Minimum System Requirements for using the Chromecast includes most of the normal equipment to be found on my home network, it doesn't support Linux.  Now, thanks to the best (and in depth protocol) explanation from Paul Donahue on the AskUbuntu forum, I know that I'm covered with my Linux devices at home.  Now all is right with the world again.  Thanks again Paul, you made my day a little better.  Now if Google would officially support it as a product and not a beta, that would be cool.

Screen Capture Edit/Addition: I actually wrote this a few weeks ago but never ended up publishing it.  Since then I've bought two Chromecast units to hook up to various TVs around the house.  I would rather have a direct Ethernet connection to them, but they never skip and you really can't beat the price.  I mainly use Ubuntu 13.10 with Chromium to cast content to the Chromecast units, but my kids use the iPad client and it is seamless.  Sometimes less is more.







Continue reading "Chromecast on Linux" »

November 28, 2013

Splunk Revisited

A few years ago I was evaluating a cool log analysis package called Splunk for a project at work.  I had a few instances running on a development machine at work and on a server at home.  I found that I was able to drill down to very specific events to debug what was happening so I could correlate problems among various devices and software packages.  When I upgraded my home server a year ago I didn't spend the time to reinstall Splunk, as I was busy with moving into a new house and having children, so it went to the back burner. 

Recently I was having a conversation on system monitoring architecture and Splunk came up.  I decided to take a look and see what a few years of maturity has done.  First of all, the basic software is now free for individual use.  While there is a reduction in enterprise features and there is no password/account authentication, the core functionality is all there. There is a 500Mb limit on the amount of data you can processes, but if you have half a gig of syslog/logfiles/etc to parse a day, then you shouldn't be so cheap and just buy a full license.   If you were paranoid, it would be very easy to use this software and to only share the management port to localhost, so you would have to use a SSH tunnel to get into the box to be able to view any of the data.  I know that is pretty hokey, but it does work as far as anyone with account access to the box gets to see your data.  Beyond that you could always run Splunk within a virtual machine. 

Beyond the cool factor of being able to drill down into your data, it runs well on pretty anaemic hardware.  The server I installed this software on is cobbled together from remnants of several dead computers that are at least six years old, yet the response time from the database with around half a million events is surprisingly fast.  

March 14, 2013

Sex in Space

Laura Woodmansee recently made a blog posting in regards the ethical nature of sex in space, specifically the possibility of human conception.  She takes the position that it is unethical to conceive a child in space (or in the microgravity of low earth orbit), due the the past research showing that plant reproduction is affected by the lack of gravity. 


Personally I feel that it is unethical to block such activities.  Whether it be for a James Bond style Zero-G tryst or in an attempt to increase the world population by one, there should not be restrictions on consensual activity between two adults above the Kármán line.  People take risks.  People conceive children even when the risk of disease or genetic traits are not in their favor.  How is conceiving in space different from a couple conceiving even through they both have recessive traits that can be disastrous?  There is quite a difference from conceiving a child in zero gravity and bringing a baby to term.  The issues that arise from that are a whole different conversation.    




November 13, 2011

Windows phone home

When you connect your Windows 7 or Windows Vista computer to a wireless hot spot or plug in your Ethernet cable, have you ever wondered how Windows knows whether or not you have a good Internet connection?  It is a pretty easy thing to take for granted, unless you start looking at your firewall logs.  The Network Connectivity Status Indicator (NCSI) service that Microsoft uses a http connection to and transfers a text file called nsci.txt.  An in-depth breakdown of the packets using Wireshark is available at the SuperUser Blog.  The blog also contains instructions on how to edit the registry to stop your system from phoning home.





October 24, 2011

Off the grid

Sometimes you need to get off the grid and have a bit of privacy.  With the proliferation of phones that don't have removable batteries, it becomes fairly difficult.  Many other technologies such as RFID are embedded in identification documents and credit cards.  It is easy to wrap up these items in aluminum foil or in RF blocking Mylar bags, but you risk being unfashionable or as being branded a paranoid lunatic.  To control when and where your wireless devices can talk, a company called MIAmobi has created a fairly ordinary looking pouch that has a silver foil lining that blocks RF.  The company's website does not state specifics on the RF attenuation or what the frequency range that it blocks.  A similar, less expensive, less fashionable bag can be had from Ramsey (yeah, the guys who make the FM transmitter kits), which is designed for cell phone forensic testing.




September 02, 2011

$25 PC - Delicious Raspberry Pi

Taking the cost of computing down to the cost of a textbook is the plan for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.  This is not just an educational tool for developing countries like what the OLPC project is doing, it is a platform for discovery and experimentation in the developed world as well.   Think of it this way: Do you want little Johnny taking apart the home computer that houses your tax returns which you never backup?  Or would you rather plunk down $25 for a computer that he can experiment with that can integrate with old CRT TV's that you were going to recycle anyways?  Oh, and it can run Linux, which is awesome.

(Picture from Raspberry Pi Blog)




July 12, 2011

Another social network.. again?

Much has been said about the new Google+ social networking service.  After a few different approaches (i.e. Orkut and Google Buzz), Google has rolled out something that might take off.  Beyond all the social media hogwash about monetizing the web and other jargon, Google+ has some features that are wonderful.

  • The G+ backend is not based on MySQL.  Facebook's infrastructure is based on a wonderful piece of technology that is now end of life.
  • Anyone who is already using Gmail is already 99% of the way there.
  • Picasa integration.  I'm still more of a Flickr fan, but would rather store and manage photos on Picasa than in Facebook's network.
  • A more granular and configurable security model.   Having the ability to use the same account to connect with work and friends is key.  Being able to have asymmetrical relationships is one of the biggest highlights in my mind.  
  • Once they add iPhone and SMS support they are in the Facebook and Twitter killer market.

May 20, 2011


As many of you know, I haven't been getting much sleep lately due to Grant and Miles' sometimes erratic sleeping patterns.  I've been avoiding dozing off at random times by drinking a healthy amount of coffee.  Up until this week I thought I was just propping my eyes open, but now I know that I am helping the health of my prostate.  Hooray!


January 25, 2011

Free library at your fingertips

Every time I take a long trip I try to bring a book along to read on the airplane just to pass the time.  With the advent of e-readers like the Kindle, you can bring a huge library of books with you with just a few ounces added to your carry-on bag.  One resource that I have found to be amazing is the library at Project Gutenberg.  You can download books that are now in the public domain and read them in various electronic formats.  The price cannot be beaten (free) and the amount of books available increase every day.  They provide the books in file formats that work on the iPad, Kindle, Nook, OLPC and various other reader units as well as regular computers.


As a plus, these books are in the format the author originally published them, not edited or censored.



January 18, 2011

Blog Submission

For people that write a personal blog that isn't hosted on a large platform like Blogger or Wordpress, sometimes you want to ping the search engines and blog aggregators to let the world know that you have a new post.  Google has some basic functions, and other sites such as pingoat and ping-o-matic give you increased reach.  One of the newer players in this game is a site simply called googleping


(Picture courtesy of Tio Mobius on Flickr)


November 04, 2010

Flickr and OpenID

One of my favorite web communities is the site Flickr.  They were bought by Yahoo years ago and consolidated their login system with Yahoo years ago.  One of the cool things that they are doing now is to allow other forms of authentication including Google's accounts.  So, if you never went and viewed your friend's private Flickr pictures and video because you didn't want to setup a Yahoo account, those days are over.  Just link it...


Update: January 20, 2011 - Flickr Adds Facebook login capabilities.


June 16, 2010

Changing our weather one flight at a time

DiscoveryNews has an interesting article on the subject of commercial airliners minutely changing weather patterns.  In some cases snow and rain was caused by flying through clouds in certain types of conditions.  The hole punch clouds that can occur when this happens are even cited as "evidence" of UFO landings.

The part I thought was the most interesting was this excerpt:

"Still, Heymsfield and colleagues write in a new study in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that on average, 7.8 percent of Earth is covered in clouds ripe for "plane seeding." Heymsfield notes that precipitation from this effect isn't likely to alter global weather patterns, it may have a local effect."


(Photo Courtesy of The Shade on Flickr)



June 15, 2010

Filtering the Vuvuzela

For those of you that are stuck in a cave somewhere, you might not have been introduced to the maddening vuvuzela horn that is being used by rabid fans in the 2010 FIFA World Cup(This is soccer to all the Americans). German fan and engineer Tobias Herre came up with a solution to digitally filter out the vuvuzela sounds from his TV.  By filtering out the B flat note using a channel EQ to build a notch filter around 233Hz, 466Hz, 932Hz and 1864Hz in real time, he is able to hear the game without the maddening vuvuzela sounds.  You can search on Youtube for the sound of ten thousand vuvuzelas going at once, but some people describe it as a bee hive inside your head.


(Photo Courtesy of Coca Cola South Africa on Flickr)


June 08, 2010

Visualizing Crime

Doug McCune had a really interesting blog post two days ago in regards to visualizing San Francisco crime data.  He took the crime records from 2009 to generate several maps of the city in while he overlays the crime data as the elevation of the land, creating interesting landscapes based on criminal activities.

To all of us who know the San Francisco neighborhood called the Tenderloin well, the characterization of the TL as "Mt. Loin" is quite appropriate!


May 27, 2010

Google Search with SSL

Google recently updated their servers to allow you connect to the main Google search page over SSL.  While this gives you the ability to do initial web searches without being viewed by your employer or network provider between your computer and Google's server, it does not proxy the connection to the search results.      





May 21, 2010

Internet in a (big) box

The shipping containers that are used to shuttle cargo all around the world via ship, rail and road have a lifetime of about 20 years.  Other than melting them down for scrap, what can they be used for?

Computer Aid International found that they could use these containers for house computer labs to provide Internet access to developing countries.  Using solar power and low powered netbooks like the XO, they are able to bring an oasis of information to the desert.  Very cool!


(Photo Courtesy of photohome_uk / Steve Gibson on flickr)


May 06, 2010

Before it was "The Shack"

When I was growing up, one of the things that I loved to read was the Radio Shack catalog.  It was full of wonderful electronic gadgets and parts.  These items branded with Tandy, Realistic, Optimus, Archer or just Radio Shack, were never deemed the highest quality and NEVER was on the high end of user interface design, but always did what it needed to do. From 1939 to 2003, Radio Shack produced a catalog of what was available through their chain.  Not everything was stocked in their stores, but anything in the catalog was available in a few days at any of their stores if you special ordered.  A fellow by the name of Mike has meticulously scanned and indexed all of those catalogs and put them online for your viewing pleasure.  I found a ton of things in here that reminded me of my childhood.

Radio Shack Catalog 1939 - Cover 

Before Radio Shack re-branded itself as "The Shack" and changed their focus on selling cellular phones, it was a place where you could buy a wide array of electronic components from individual resistors to stereo receivers.  I used to head out to the Radio Shack with my Mom to pick up replacement vacuum tubes for our little black and white travel TV as well as take advantage of their battery of the month program.  A lot of things about my childhood were Radio Shack branded.  My first radio was a Flavor Radio in Blueberry (1979 Catalog, Page 170).  My first foray into playing with electronics was with a 50 in One Project kit (1983 Catalog, Page 133).  I could go on and on about random stuff I purchased there over the years or drooled over.  Even when everyone would refer to the place at "Rat Shack" or "Radio Crap" or whatever other childish term, you still knew that in a pinch you could buy the part or cable there.  And it would work.    Good times...



April 27, 2010


I am always a fan of NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) website, as they always find a way to see the beauty in science. The picture below is the visualization of a sound collected from undersea microphones in 1997.  The sound, otherwise known as "The Bloop", could have been generated by a living creature that is several times the size of blue whale, or just the result of an iceberg breaking loose.  There is so much about the world around us (and below us) that is still unknown!

bloop! NASA

Cached Audio Link Here


April 05, 2010


Where are your tax dollars going?  Well, some of them are going right here... to the USGS to allow them to notify you of earthquakes.  In the last few days there have been several large quakes in Mexico, so this service has taken a pretty heavy load from the web.  The neat feature of this web site is that you can program it to send you an SMS text after an earthquake, so you don't even have to go online to find out how big and where. 



March 30, 2010

Google Fiber, the next step.

Last month Google got a lot of press for their request for interest from any and all comers from all around the United States to have the first beta Google network in their town.  Over 1100 Cities around the country responded to this call.  Well, they closed their inbox on this subject on March 26th and many towns and cities across the US are anxiously waiting for the final verdict later this year.  I put in a request for the town I live in, but in my mind it is not what Google is looking for.  Where I live is a fairly modern bedroom community that has large scale infrastructure for broadband provided through Comcast (or Xfinity or whatever) and AT&T, and is one city over from an AT&T U-verse test market.  We are also just a little over 30 miles from the main Google campus, which in my mind is too close for a real test.

What Google really needs is small (less than 25k residents) community that is medium density and that has a mix of commercial and residential interests, as well as a very flexible city/county planning department.  But, Sergey and Larry, if you decide on the town where I live, you are totally invited to have Margaritas by the pool.
Google RFI Fiber map of the USA


February 24, 2010

Tracking Flatulence

I have been tracking the web traffic associated with my domain recently and was amused.  I was hoping that the bulk of the traffic would be associated with my blog (this site) and associated files, but that was not the case.  Back in 1994 I came across a text file that discussed the chemical composition of flatus (a fart for the uninitiated) in detail.  I moved that text file over to an html file and put it online in 1996 and didn't think much of it.  It turns out that this is a very popular search term.  You never know what people will want to search for on the internet.  Below is the picture from the Google Analytics site attached to this link. 

 Flatulence Google Analytics


February 07, 2010

Best. Homepage. Ever.

Eugene Hsu, if I had a job for you, I would hire you on the spot. Bask in the glory of my adoration. 

 Eugene Hsu


January 10, 2010

What time is it?

You have got to love performance art when it is so functional.  This clock by Maarten Baas, is hand drawn for every hour and minute of the day.  The cycle was recorded once and then played out forever through this clock with a LCD display in it.  Take a look...


January 05, 2010

Concrete Ships and other oddities

Over the New Year holiday we were down in the Santa Cruz area for some relaxation.  While in Aptos, we were walking by the large concrete ship attached to a pier.  I remembered seeing this as a child, but I never knew the exact story about it, so I did some research on the web (ok, I just googled it and came up with the info), and found Sandy Lydon's website with tons of odd history in the Santa Cruz area.  The ship turned out to be the S.S. Palo Alto, which has a long and storied history.  I knew a little bit about Liberty Ships made of concrete, but I found out way to much random info at Mr. Lydon's website.

(photo courtesy of redteam on Flickr)


January 02, 2010

Sweet XO-3

It looks like the One Laptop per Child team may beat Apple at the tablet game.  Take a look at these sweet concept demo pictures of the OLPC XO-3 tablet.




December 21, 2009

Radiskull... has it been a decade?

I was recently reading an article about the changes in the delivery of animated/video content on the internet before Youtube and other video sharing sites became so popular.  It started to make me think about some of the original Flash video sharing sites, like Atom Films, where I originally found Joe Spark's creation: Radiskull & Devil Doll.

Radiskull & Devil Doll 

While there have been tons of technological advances in the delivery of flash and video stuff, Joe Spark's content still amuses me.  A levitating skull drinking piping hot coffee... that is golden.

December 11, 2009

So true...

Again, the XKCD comic has nailed it right on the head.  Nothing has been more true...




December 10, 2009

Next stop... the 80's

Every 42 years a movie comes out that has incredible insights to the human condition.  That movie is probably coming soon, but until then, you have to check out Buster Jones.  It has everything that one could want in a movie: Afros, mustaches, and tons of Martial Arts.  You will be entertained and maybe learn a little bit about yourself.

Don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself:



Yo Jeff!

November 06, 2009

Is your data protected?

When it comes to securing your data against losses, many people have a knee jerk reaction to think about hackers or other insider threats.  This is somewhat natural these days due to legislation like HIPAA which mandate various controls for the confidentiality and integrity.  What many people don't think about these days is a full scale breach of availability (as well as total data loss).

This video shows what can happen in minutes.  While not every organization needs a full scale disaster management plan, this is the prime example of why you have current off-site backups.  Usually the fire isn't what destroys your server farm, it is the water damage after...



September 26, 2009

Our Neighborhood Airport

I have lived in the flight path for Livermore Municipal Airport (LVK) for several years now, but never really had a chance to check out the facilities.  It is a general aviation airport, so there is no commercial activity, but you see a wide range of aircraft flying in and out, from Cessna 172's to G5's and even Blimps.  Today the city of Livermore had a great open house to show off the facilities to the community.  Tons of wonderful static displays and several flight demonstrations, including a great rescue drill by a US Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter.  The price was right as well: free!


My Flickr Set:

September 03, 2009

Cheapskate Wi-Fi signal boost

If you travel on the cheap and are trying to find a free Wi-Fi hotspot to get on the internet, you might want to check out this website.  Most Wi-Fi antennas are very inefficient and are designed for a short range of a few hundred feet.  On the Free Antennas website, there are several templates to allow you to add inexpensive reflectors to your Wi-Fi antenna to increase the signal strength without any major electrical or structural modification of your equipment.   


(Photo Courtesy of IvyMike on Flickr)

This is much easier to travel with than the Wifi Wok solution.


(Photo Courtesy of J.D. Abolins on Flickr



September 02, 2009

Quick and Dirty SMS

How do you send a quick SMS message to someone without trying to figure out the email gateway for some random provider?  There are a bunch of different solutions, but a one stop (and free) solution is GizmoSMS.  They provide access without requiring accounts, but also have the ability to add your number to a blacklist if you are being annoyed through the service.  Of course this appetizer is the bait to get your to upgrade to their premium service, but the free service works great in a pinch.

The user interface is really simple.  Phone number, message and a captcha are all you need.


Even though the message is one-way, you get a confirmation that the message was transmitted to the network without error.  Not bad for a free service.


The selection of countries to send free SMS messages to is very extensive.




August 13, 2009

The comfort of hard plastic

While my youthful days of bare minimum travel are over, I still get a kick out of what people will do to save a buck.  Donna McSherry started the site Sleeping in Airports, which is a user updated website that gives you tips on the best places to crash when you are traveling on a budget.  Even if you are not traveling around the world on a pocket full of change, you might find some of the descriptions extremely amusing.


(Photo Courtesy of Holiday-Extras on Flickr)

An example of the crazy reviews that I liked:

Nong Kai - Thai-Lao border - January, 2009
Sleeping at the Thai-Lao border


"I slept at Nong Kai, at the Thai-Lao border in March, 2001. The bus from Bangkok drops you off about 2 am, and it takes a while for the border to open. It is quite deserted, there are benches and tables to sleep on. My friends and I had a great sleep, and we were woken up in the morning by the bells from a nearby Buddhist temple (quite a nice alarm clock!). When the border guards arrived, we realized we had crossed the border in the night and slept the Laotion side! We had to pay an overtime fee but they let us walk back across the border and go through properly." Contributed by Aileen Nowlan" (Added 18 JAN 03)


Good times!


August 03, 2009

Sign generation was never so fun

As many people know, I find downtown San Francisco very amusingFrank Chu, the perpetual protester is a big part of the fun.  A while back, Jef Poskanzer designed a web page that would take a creative commons licensed Frank Chu photo from Flickr and superimpose your own words on his 12 Galaxies protest sign.  Genius.  Now, even if you are 3000 miles away, you can be part of the fun.  While you are at the ACME site, you might also try out some of the other great image manipulation pages including: Labelmaker, License Plate Maker and Heart Maker.




August 02, 2009

Getting big!

It is hard to believe that 6 months has already come and gone.  Miles had his checkup and it simply huge!  20lbs 5oz and 27 1/2" long.  He is officially a sack of potatoes.


 The nifty graph calculator comes from:

July 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Unix

It is hard to believe that Unix is 40 years old!  How time flies.  Pretty soon it will be buying a red sports car and picking up operating systems half his age.  What a cad!


(Photo Courtesy of prettydaisies on Flickr)


July 23, 2009

Free Flickr for Non-Profit

While there are a bunch of different photo sharing services online, on of my favorites is FlickrThe only drawback to the service, is that if you want to use it to the fullest, you need to upgrade to the pro version.  While it isn't that much money for me, for many organizations it can be too much.  Flickr recently started a campaign called Flickr for Good, which allows non-profit and other qualified organizations to have free upgraded accounts to share their pictures and other graphic resources on the web.

Flickr for Good 


July 15, 2009

More Internet Time Wasters for the Barfly

You can find thousands of ways to amuse yourself on the internet.  One of the more amusing time wasters that I've seen in a while is the site Texts From Last Night.  This is a one stop clearinghouse of random, and sometimes witty, SMS messages between inebriated friends.  There is also a thumbs up/down voting system, to make sure that the best messages make their way to the top. 

(Photo Courtesy of Frank Spin on Flickr)

A random sampling from the sea of texts:

(408): every time I hook up with him I think about the fact that penicillin was a mistake too... and look how well that turned out. It makes me feel just a little bit better.


 Ahh, to be young again...


July 13, 2009

Flighty data

According to an article in NetworkWorld, over 12,000 laptops go missing in airports around the United States every week, with 1200 just at LAX.  The thought of outright theft or some other sort of loss is quite unnerving. 

(Image Courtesy of dklimpke on Flickr)

If you travel often there are several things you can do to mitigate the security risks.  If you don't care about your privacy and would just pick up another laptop at Costco or Fry's if you lost it, you can skip this article.  The first item is the backup.  Everyone talks about it, but most of the time, people don't do it at all.  There are several online backup services that allow you to securely (at least for personal data) backup over the internet using an automated client.  At a minimum, make a dump of your data files to a thumb drive or DVD disk every month or so.  If you can't afford to be without your data, you can't afford not backing up.  The next issue is privacy.  Who owns the data on your laptop?  Do you have proprietary data that people would want to buy?  Do you have embarrassing photos from your buddy's bachelor party saved on your laptop?  Do you have personal information that could lead to your identity being stolen?  If so, you should consider full disk encryption.  While it does take some processor overhead, it is worth the extra processor cycles for your data's protection.  Microsoft has their new Bitlocker technology in Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, PGP has full disk encryption for the Mac and Windows, Checkpoint has full disk encryption for Mac, Windows and Linux in their Pointsec software, and there are also free open-source alternatives such as Trucrypt.  These products render the data on your laptop useless to anyone who wishes to get the content off the machine.  You may lose the monetary value of the laptop, but usually that is much easier to bear than losing millions of customer records or your unfiled patent application.


June 02, 2009

Hey Dog, Chill Out

While most people get it, some people still leave their dogs in the car on hot days.  Many people are still under the impression that if you crack the windows on your car that will be sufficient, but that is just not the case.  The website My Dog Is Cool, has some great resources to explain the dangers to other people. All it takes is a day with the ambient temperature to hit the low 80's to literally cook a dog sitting in a car. 


(Photo Courtesy of Sidereal on Flickr)

There are a lot of great PDF files that can be printed out as flyers to leave on offending cars or given out to increase awareness.  You wouldn't leave your infant in a hot car, so why would you do the same to a dog?





May 11, 2009

NOT a pocket camera

When you think of photography and cameras these days, most people think about nifty little digital cameras that pop into your pocket. The funny thing about physics and optics, is that it can scale quite easily to a larger format.  Shaun Irving decided to scale the size of a camera up that of a large box truck.  Being incredibly experimental photographer he bought a truck on eBay, he converted the truck into a large mobile camera.  That is the funny thing about art.  Sometimes it is so impractical that it draws you in.  He is not creative when it comes to naming a project, as it is called: CAMERATRUCK.  To the point, but not exciting.  On the other hand, the pictures are amazing and simply huge.  The average size of his works are 7 feet by 3.5 feet.

Box Truck 

(Photo Courtesy of The Joy Of The Mundane on Flickr)



May 09, 2009

Windows 7 RC... Tasty and refreshing?

After a hefty download, DVD burn and install, I'm playing with Windows 7 RC, release 7100.  Seems to be as stable as 7000 was on decent hardware.  The only thing that I find amusing is that my Windows Experience Index increased by .3 without any hardware changes...


Even if I don't end up using the final release, I won't have to think about reinstalling until June 1st, 2010 when this Release Candidate will expire.  Previous review link below.



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 without going through the proxy, but only go to 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.

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.   


March 18, 2009

Video/Audio Mashup

Recently the website THRU YOU has gotten a lot of press.  I am hardly the first to write about it, so I figured I'd share it with folks that have been in a cave for the last three months.  This DJ out of Israel with the nom de guerre Kutiman put together a bunch of songs using clips from Youtube.  This sounds like it would turn out bad, but the songs are actually really quite good and the video mix is really amusing.

January 23, 2009

Open Government: A Memo

The new US President has been in office for three days and he is already sending out public memorandums to the heads of all the governmental agencies in the executive branch.  If you read the fifth paragraph closely, you can see it screams out to technology companies to send their best and brightest people to Washington.  If you are an executive at a large network technology company that is currently laying off employees, you might want to get in on this action.   



SUBJECT:      Transparency and Open Government
My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.
Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.
Government should be collaborative.  Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector.  Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.
I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.
This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.



November 23, 2008

Elvis the Robo-cat

This video is fairly old, but it always amazes me.  This guy's cat was injured in an accident with a car, so instead of putting it down, he built it a robotic platform to move around. I guess sometimes it pays to be a mad scientist. 


November 22, 2008

Talking photography with virtual friends

Whether you are a novice or and old pro when it comes to digital photography, it is always nice to have a place to share resources.  ShutterBudd is that sort of community.  Whether you want to evaluate how various pieces of gear work for you, talk about photo manipulation software or just share some of your work, this is a great site to frequent.  This community is active in both digital and analog mediums, so you are as likely to find information about the newest Digital SLR camera or medium format black and white photography and everything in between.

ShutterBudd Screen shot 

While other sites such as Flickr, SmugMug, and Picasa allow you to share photographs and make connections, ShutterBudd is a smaller community that feels closer knit.  ShutterBudd has ventured from the cyber world into the real world with their photo exhibitions that take place around the San Francisco Bay AreaThere is still time to submit your photos for the January 2009 show which features the theme: Good Food, Good Friends!


November 20, 2008

Graffiti as art and social commentary

Depending on where you are located, you may or may not be exposed to graffiti on a daily basis.  In some areas it can be absent, while in others it is the work if idle youth and in other areas it designates street gang territories.  There is another category beyond this that walks the fine line between art and vandalism.  I was aware of Shepard Fairey and his Andre the Giant styled stencils that cover many surfaces in metropolitan areas, but I did not learn about Banksy until a few years ago, due to all the links to his work from Digg.  This artist keeps a low profile and operates under his moniker, which helps not getting prosecuted.  Banksy has some amazing pieces, which must have been an amazing feat to install without getting caught.  The images are witty, the ideas are edgy and while you may not agree with the method, it will still make you stop and think.  The internet is flush with pictures of his work, but here are a few that you might find interesting.

(Photo Courtesy of caruba on Flickr)



(Photo Courtesy of herrner on Flickr)



(Photo Courtesy of artbymags on Flickr)



(Photo Courtesy of funkypancake on Flickr)






November 18, 2008

We welcome our robot overlords...

Nothing to lighten the mood like a cat riding a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner.  Or a robo-hoover for the chaps across the pond. Allo, Guvnah!



  • 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 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.


    September 04, 2008

    Make Millions: Tom Vu style!

    If you grew up watching TV in the 1980's, you'll remember infomercial sensation Tom Vu.  His whole deal was buying distressed properties and turning them around for a profit.  This guy had big brass ones and perfected the William Hung act before he was even born. 

    While Tom is now a professional poker player, he will always be remembered as the guy that said:

    "Do you think these girls like me? NO, they like my money!"

    Tom Vu on Money

    Tom Vu with his babes

    God Bless you Tom Vu!

    September 03, 2008

    All that glitters isn't Chrome

    The big buzz for the last few days has been the newly released Chrome browser from Google. In a nutshell it is pretty slick.  On Windows XP it renders pages as fast as Firefox 3.0 and performs 2 or 3x faster than Safari.  All the normal websites I go to render just fine and work like a charm.  The only issue I ran into was with Flash video playback not working as well as it should (chunky like a monkey).


    On teh interwebs, they are saying that there might be security issues in regards to the WebKit that Google used to develop Chrome.  Specifically, a bad guy could run JAR files on your system withour asking for your permission.  It doesn't pay to be a first adopter I guess.  You can guess that Chrome would be the future browser of choice if you are a Google suite user.



    August 26, 2008

    Electronic Childhood Regression

    Recently I was reading an article in Computerworld about Richard Stallman and his zeal for open source computing, and happened across RMS's disgust towards the OLPC project making it possible for Microsoft Windows XP to run on that platform.  Operating system and tools preferences as a political statement is interesting, but not the point of this posting.  The fact that Stallman was using the XO-1 laptop as his portable of choice at one point was most interesting factor to me.   

    I spent some time surfing through the XO Wiki to find out more information and ran across a full Livebackup ISO file that I could load onto my current laptop to try out the user interface.  After about half an hour I was sold.  I was already in the market for a smaller laptop for travel, so it was off to eBay to see what was available.  After a few days of bidding and losing, I found a nice XO-1 in Washington D.C. for about $200.  I know, I know, for $300 I could get a brand new ASUS EEE PC with twice the memory, twice the flash and I could run Windows on it.  That's not the point.


    (Courtesy of Irregular Shed on Flickr)

    So, I get this unit in the mail yesterday.  Right out of the box it is on my home Wi-Fi.  It has the feeling of the fun I had the first time I got my hands on an Apple ][.  I'll follow up with my experiences.


    July 31, 2008

    Tiny little homes

    Living in a house that never has enough space has always had me daydreaming of adding a little cottage, studio, or "pool house" (minus the Kato).  I ran into the Tumbleweed homes a few years ago, that make these amazing little houses that are less than 100 square feet.  These tiny little houses can skirt many cities zoning regulations, as they are considered non-permanent structures since they are built on a trailer chassis. 

    (Photo of Jay Shafer/Tumbleweed Home Courtesy of Telstar Logistics on Flickr)

    Today I was reading an interesting article about a man named Tom Sepa, who lives in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco by a combination or choice and financial circumstances.  While the article was interesting, the comments led me to look up a design called the City Sleeper, which was designed by Donald MacDonald as a response to the homeless problem in the city.  This inexpensive structure which is built from 4x8 plywood sheets and other inexpensive building materials would be a wonderful structure to build out in the Sierra Foothills where you just needed a place to sleep and some protection from the elements.


    (Photo and illustration courtesy of Donald MacDonald)


    July 28, 2008

    Google maps will get you anywhere

    It has been shown that Google maps will get you from any two places on the earth.  On the Stealcode blog, they have an interesting post on how to get from New York to Paris.  The best line is:

    "23. Swim across the Atlantic Ocean 3,462 mi 29 days 0 hours"



    July 24, 2008

    FTP to Jupiter, surfing on Mars.

    Vint Cerf, one of the original designers of what we now call the Internet, has been working with NASA and some other contractors on technologies that would extend our network connectivity to the stars.  The DTN or Delay Tolerant Network design that they are working on would allow for the extreme network latency that would be incurred by radio transmissions between planets.

    And you think the delay on Dial-up internet is bad...



    July 20, 2008

    Cabling mishaps

    For anyone that has been involved with telecom wiring projects knows that so many things can go wrong.  I'm just happy that I've never ended up with a project that ended up this bad...


    July 16, 2008

    Freedom of speech is worth protecting

    Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last ten years, you have probably heard of Craig's List.  For some people it is a great place to find garage sales, for others they find apartments or jobs.  There are other parts of the site that are meant for adults, and will most likely find you catching a "social disease".  Beyond all this is the most amusing a maddening thing of all, the rants & raves section of Craig's List.  Here people write the most foul, disturbing and sometimes amazing content, all under the cloak of anonymity.  I'm a big fan of our Constitutional rights in the United States, but sometimes is can be saddening to see how people abuse our right of free speech with this kind of amazing content.


    An example of the fine content available, with a search for the word "crap" returning 84 hits on postings in the last week.


     Out of those 84 hits, I picked one of the least offensive posts, one about a famous TV psychic.

    If you weed out the racially, culturally, genderally, politically, and any other offensive "ally" word, you end up with some posts that are sometimes incredibly witty, insightful and amusing.  The best of these posts end up in what is called "The Best of Craig's List" where these can live on forever.

    July 15, 2008

    Countdown to owned

    The Internet Storm Center at SANS recently did a study of the survival time of an un-patched, un-firewalled, and un-NATted Windows machine on the Internet.  It is no surprise that the time it takes to get completely owned is around 4 minutes.  Sort of amusing in a really sad way. 


    July 14, 2008

    San Francisco Bay Area #1 Place for young professionals

    While I'm not a big fan of rankings or top ten lists on the internet, when the area you live is rated #1, you have to love it.  Forbes ranked the San Francisco Bay Area as the #1 Place for Young Professionals.  All the nuts and bolts about how they ranked stuff is in the article.  Note to young people wanting to live here: It is expensive, bring your checkbook!


    (Photo Credit: Dawn Endico from Flickr)



    July 13, 2008

    The iPhone can cure cancer and 100 other fables

    I was at the local mall with my wife today to do my part in supporting our crumbling economy and ran into the line (or queue for all you folks across the pond) at the local Apple store.  Even on a Sunday in the suburban mall, there is a line 30 people deep to get an iPhone.   I was thinking back to 2007 when Maddox wrote an in depth analysis of his throughts on the iPhone.  18 months later, I think it still applies.



    July 09, 2008

    DNS Cache poisoning and a tool to check for it...

    Recently an exploit called DNS Cache poisoning has put several internet Domain Name System servers at risk.  The risk is spread across multiple operating systems and multiple DNS implementation.  DoxPara Research has put together a web based tool (on their main site), which allows you to check your upstream DNS server for vulnerabilities.  I'm sure that patches will be coming soon from many vendors, but at least until then you can monitor your network traffic for suspicious behavior.  Below is an example from a machine at home:





    Make your own online comics

    Are your kids home from school this summer and driving you crazy?  Are you a big geek that never grew up and would like to design your own comic strip?  The site BitStrips may solve both of these problems.  They have a free interactive based comic strip building site that allows you to author and publish your miniature works of art.  I created a non-funny example to show what can be done even if you are devoid of the ability to generate humorous content.




    June 27, 2008

    OpenVMS, it isn't as dead as you may think


    As much as HP would like it to go away, OpenVMS still has a strong foothold in many niche computing sectors.  While my background is mainly in Unix and Windows, I've had a chance to dabble a bit in OpenVMS over the years.  It wasn't really my cup of tea, but it is pretty amazing what kind of longevity and stability some of these systems have.  I'm aware of two or three examples signal processing code written on the VAX back in the eary 80's that is still running on a daily basis.  While the hardware starts to fade and crumble, virtualization and processor emulation might have the same programs running for the next 50 years on virtualized platforms.  For the kids out there that want to try their hand at OpenVMS, Vistech runs what they call the "Deathrow" cluster of OpenVMS systems available over the internet.  They are nice enough to provide SSH access to several machines, where you can mess around to your heart's content, as long as you are not malicious.  If you have a lot of time on your hands and are bored with messing with Linux and BSD, give OpenVMS a try.  It is one of those things like COBOL, which everyone says is dead, but people still are making money off consulting! 


    Oh, and the deathrow thing, I assume that refers to the various cancellations and end of life announcements over the years and not to music produced by Suge Knight, but I've been known to be wrong...


    June 25, 2008



    For those of you who are interested in different Open Source and *nix-y operating systems, Sun would like you to take a look at OpenSolaris.  For those folks who are too lazy to download the ISO of the disk image, Sun will even ship you a copy of the CD to your home or workplace.  That's not such a bad deal, and makes such a better drink coaster than the AOL CD-ROMs.  Seriously, it might be worth a look if you like messing with different BSD and Linux distributions.



    Update 6/27/08 - I came home yesterday to a sparkling new CD from Sun.  That is a FAST turnaround.  Less than 36 hours!


    June 23, 2008

    Open Source AdvFS!

    Unless you've worked with Compaq/HP/Dec DigitalUnix/OSF1/Tru64 Unix you haven't had the pleasure of working with AdvFS.  While Sun is getting all the media attention by having Apple adopt ZFS into their core OS release, the beauty of AdvFS is now going Open Source.  In a previous life, I spent a lot of time working with Tru64 Unix on the Alpha platform.  The stability and recoverability of their file system compared with UFS was amazing.  One of the best features of this file system is that it didn't kill its wife.


    June 18, 2008

    Avant Garde Humor

    Everyone has their guilty pleasures.  One of mine is Tom Green's movie Freddy Got Fingered
    This movie is foul, rude, obscene and so many other adjectives.  Green overtly tries to push the limits way beyond what is comfortable.  How absurd the situations are make this spectacle transcends simple poop and weiner humor and takes it to a new level of pure art.  What Green is trying to express through his "art", I have no idea.   Does it take a Canadian for us to explain freedom of speech and expression to Americans?  Okay, I'm not really that serious...

    Roger Ebert wrote this about the movie:

    "This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."

     Daddy can I have some sausages


    To have that kind of reaction from a film luminary, Tom must be some sort of genius.  Maybe that might be stretching things, but he still makes me laugh.  I hope I can do something in my life that will garner such a spirited reaction.

    If you enjoyed this movie, you might also enjoy a Colon Pal

    June 14, 2008

    How to recycle old PC hardware, freaky style

    Here is a scenario: At your organization you have just finished a forklift upgrade of all your old enduser workstations.  You have wiped the drives (using DBAN or some other great software) and now want to be green and recycle the machines.  Since you've nuked the operating system and software off the machines, they are totally useless now, or are they...

    (Photo Credit: Michael Surran - Extra Ketchup on Flickr

    FreeGeek of Portland, Oregon has come up with a distribution plan that they call the "Freekbox".  Using donated parts, they build machines that have a similar range of processing power and load up Ubuntu Linux, which is rich with multimedia and productivity applications.  So a box that wouldn't run Vista in a corporate environment is now screaming along running Linux and keeping it out of a landfill.  Huzzah!  FreeGeek's criteria for their "Freekbox" machines are this:

    • Processor speed: 1.5 - 2.2 ghz
    • 256 MB RAM
    • 20 - 30 GB hard drive
    • CD-R/RW drive
    • Floppy disk drive
    • 17 inch color monitor
    • 56k internal Modem
    • 10/100 Network card
    • Keyboard
    • Mouse
    • Speakers

    For the people that they've adopted to receive these machines, this is a real godsent.  Since almost all of this hardware is most likely not ROHS compliant (i.e. this stuff is usually full of lead, arsenic and other toxic stuff), it keeps it out of the landfills for as long as possible.  Having a similar operating environment on all the machines keeps the support for this volunteer organization very manageable.  They also hold clinics on how to build computers, which helps expand their volunteer base and gives people marketable skills.  Kudos!

    June 12, 2008

    Annoying site registrations

    Sometimes you'll get a link from someone regarding an article or paper that requires registration.  Instead of spending the time to create yet another account to remember, you might want to check out BugMeNot.  Their service most likely violates the terms of service on a lot of web sites, but does that really bother you?  Many newspapers and periodicals are part of the "dark web" of unsearchable or controlled content.  Instead of giving away all of your personal information once again to read an article, borrow a throwaway account from BugMeNot.  I wouldn't advocate a service like this if it were to be used to share a paid service, as that would be theft.

    The service is pretty simple..  you enter the web site you want an account for, and it returns a listing of account/password combos.  If it doesn't work for you, you vote that account combo down, so the next sucker doesn't waste more of their precious time.






    Conspiracy theories and operational security

    Earlier in the year I read the online article "Unmarked Planes & Hidden Geographies" by Trevor Paglen in the Vectors Journal at  USC.  Different from the normal Area 51 and Dreamland internet conspiracy theory hogwash, it was a truly interesting take on the usage of open source intelligence (or OSINT as they call it in the biz).

    Since I was staying at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas a few weeks after I read this, I decided to see what I could do with a digital point and shoot camera.  With 16x zoom (4x optical and the rest digital) I couldn't make out the tail numbers, but it just shows that there are only a few thousand yards between secrets and slot machines in Las Vegas.



    June 07, 2008

    Online education cranks up the appeal

    When I finished my Master's degree, one of the things that I lamented was the loss of my access to a lot of really great online research tools.  One of the cool things that Capella University is doing as of a few weeks ago, is giving alumni access to these tools at at a small cost after they graduate.  While google and wikipedia might have great tools to find a car dealership or to win a bar bet, having access to volumes of peer reviewed journals and other texts is not something you normally have access to after you finish your degree.  Other schools such as University of Phoenix also have policies allowing free electronic access to the research library after graduation, which is really a great marketing tool.

    "Publication: Latest Headlines - Alumni Library now available
    Source: Capella Editor
    Modified: 05/28/2008  9:05AM
    Alumni now have access to select library databases through Capella's Alumni Library. This high-demand benefit is free for alumni through January 31, 2009.
    While enrolled at Capella University, many learners come to rely on access to the Capella Library, and mourn the day they lose access following the completion of their degree.

    "While enrolled, our learners get addicted to having such a rich resource at their fingertips," says Jen Swanson, alumni director at Capella University. "Even after their coursework is complete and their graduation final, many alumni miss having daily access to the library databases that keep them current on the research and discourse in their profession."

    The Alumni Association is pleased to announce that they are launching a new Alumni Library, with access to some of the most in-demand library databases. While the Alumni Library services are different than those provided to learners during their period of study at Capella, the Alumni Library offers many databases with scholarly journal, magazine and newspaper articles, encyclopedias, e-books and dissertations to support the research and academic needs of Capella Alumni.

    To celebrate the introduction of this alumni benefit, it will be available to alumni for free until January 31, 2009, at which point alumni will be able to access it for an annual subscription fee of $50 per year. Access the Alumni Library now."

    June 05, 2008

    A well oiled solar system

    Back in August 2007, my wife and I set our alarms very early to see a full lunar eclipse from the comfort of our back yard.   Sometimes when we are too busy with our overscheduled lives, we forget to open our eyes and look at what the world has to show us.  For $0.00, you too can experience the wonder and awe that scared the crap out of people just hundreds of years ago.  NASA has some wonderful resources on the Internet that can help you find out the dates and times of the upcoming eclipse that can be seen from North America.

    Eclipse - 

    (Photo: "shadow over the moon 3-3-2007" Courtesy Drome @ Flickr)   


    NASA's Eclipse Site:


    Here are the events that I'm going to try to view. 


    •    2008 Aug 01: Total Solar Eclipse

    •    2008 Aug 16: Partial Lunar Eclipse


    •     2009 Jan 26: Annular Solar Eclipse

    •     2009 Feb 09: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

    •     2009 Jul 07: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

    •     2009 Jul 22: Total Solar Eclipse

    •     2009 Aug 06: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

    •     2009 Dec 31: Partial Lunar Eclipse


    What's up with your ear?

    Yesterday evening I was surfing through Spock to see if I could track down an old college friend and ran across a new website called Tracing Vincent, which is all about Vincent Van Gogh.  While the website is fairly interesting for people that are interested in the life and work of Vincent, I was saddened to see that my favorite painting "Wheatfield under Thunderclouds" done in 1890 was not one of the featured works. 

    Wheatfield under Thunderclouds, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh

    I am by no means an authority on art.  Other than taking one class in  mesoamerican art in college, all I know about art came from Fred Keep's Humanities class in high school.  I have been lucky to see wonderful museums around the world in my travels (Lovre, Hermitage, etc.), but have never taken to a single painting like I did with this one on a trip to the Van Gogh Musesum in Amsterdam.  The jpeg file doesn't do it justice and in person it is simply huge.  Vincent was an enigmatic fellow.  His mental illness and quirky behavior give him some distrinction, but I wonder sometimes if he would have painted unremarkable watercolors  if they had Prozac back a few hundred years.  



    May 02, 2008

    Web 2.0 troubles; Tangible memories of 1.0

    The dot-com 1.0 meltdown was awful, and I hope that when the 2.0 bubble bursts, people are able to find new employment and stability in the valley.  Thinking about all this impending doom and gloom about a 2.0 burst, I've transported my mind back to an easier and simpler time, the year 2000.  It was already a few months in and guess what, no nuclear holocaust, no flickering electrical grid, no contaminated water, and just a few hundred thousand personal web pages that were computing that it was 1900.  Not so bad, eh?

    The 1.0 company that holds a place in my heart forever is WebVan.  Officially it could be acceptable as a time management  tool for the busy professional, but truly it was an enabling tool for the chronically lazy.  I'll paint a scenario for you. I'd schedule a late evening delivery with my groceries for the week.  I'd get home from work at about 6:30, get a knock on the door from the cheery WebVan driver at about 6:45, and at 7:00 my groceries were put away.  I was in a magnificent cucoon in my Sunnyvale apartment.  Far from the hurried crowds at the Albertsons, far from the cries of babies and the chatter of soccer moms.  The produce was top notch and well picked.  Did I mention that they delivered beer as well?

    I know that Safeway does this type of delivery service in my neighborhood now, but I'm in a different place in my life.  I want to go out and experience my surroundings.  I want to hear the chatter or my neighbors and their kids as they melt down in aisle 7 over a box of pop tarts they aren't allowed to have.  Life outside the consumption cucoon is so much more rewarding, and sometimes very amusing.


    April 29, 2008

    The generational divide online

    I received an a forwarded email this morning from my grandmother with some goofy troll looking baby.  I tend to get a occasional emails from family that are amusing, and some that I've got to reply to with links to snopes.  Someone put together a site called Postcards From Yo Momma, which allows people to submit emails from their mothers and other family members that may be amusing.  Everyone has a different relationship with their parents, but some of these posts are golden, such as this one from the front page:

    "In other news, your father asked me this morning if he could borrow my nasal irrigator.  I got very excited, thinking he was being pro-active in fighting the cold that’s got him sniffling non-stop already.  Turns out he just wanted to use the irrigator to inject jelly into the croissants he was baking.  I could write a f$%@ing book.

    I’ve got to buckle down now and read this new script.


    Websites like this make you smile, especially when you get to see a snippet of the affection and/or annoyance that exists between mother and child.  It is the happy end of the voyeuristic spectrum, with the sad end being Post Secret


    April 21, 2008


    Over the past few years I've been meaning to evaluate Splunk's main product, a log aggregation and analysis tool by the same name.  Often times as a sysadmin, you have makeshift tools due to budget limitations or other types of hardships.  Many places I've worked have had enterprise level network monitoring capabilities, but unfortunately were monitoring the wrong things.  The items of the most importance on a day-to-day and hour-to-hour basis were done in shell scripts or manually at the command line.  What Splunk does is to give you the configurability of the command line, but packages it up in a nifty web based GUI that allows you do drill down to specific problems (and see the log entries associated) or just skim along at the 40k foot level through graphs and charts.

    I recently built a new Ubuntu server box at home (from completely anemic old hardware) and decided that I'd try out Splunk.  Even with the most minimal of hardware Splunk was up and running in no time at all.  From downloading the debian install package to fully functional was about 25 minutes.  My system load churned for about an hour at around 2.0 while all the /var/log and other directories were indexed and pulled into the Splunk database.  It is pretty amazing, as the base version of Splunk can access anything that is local to the system, so if that machine is your syslog server, you can correlate error events over a large network in no time at all.

    In the picture below you can see the log entries for a brute force attack against my ssh server (from host, which is probably just a hacked intermediary host).  Using Splunk allows me to drill down to see specific attacks by type or host, by very quickly changing the query statements.


    Below you can see the ebb and flow of 'page not found' 404 errors on my webserver.  I recently started hosting a domain that had been down for about a year.  That domain hosted a bunch of jpg files, which were linked to by some idiot myspace page designer.   Once I track down the individual files that are linked to, I make a symbolic link to this file


    In the extended entry, I've copied the output from the install.  Just make sure to limit access to port 8000, or whatever other port you'll be using, as there is no access control in the demo version.


    In a nutshell, Splunk is like a swiss army knife that you never knew you needed, but now you crave.  While it works great as a near real time system monitoring tool, you can also import files from anywhere and process them for historical data.  It would make a great tool for network forensics timeline reconstruction as well as a fine day to day IT operations tool.  I'm sure that there are millions of other things that can be done with this, but just being able to grok so much data at one time is like having some sort of sysadmin super power.


    Continue reading "SPLUNK! ZUFF! PAN!! SNUH! BORT! POOO! NEWT! MINT! ZAK!" »

    April 16, 2008

    Coffee Overload

    Recently my wife purchased a Nespresso espresso machine for the house.  I was leery at first, but I am totally sold on it these days, due to the low cost and how clean the thing is.  The only downside is that you have to buy coffee in these little pod containers that are the size of a normal half and half container, but made of plastic and foil.  While these things are proprietary, it isn't going to last forever (or at least at the rate my special monkey goes through the caffeine), so I'm not too worried about being trapped into a standard.  I guess I'll never be a coffee purist, just a practical caffeine enthusiast. 


    What got me thinking about the sweet dark elixir was this article in GizMag. OMG, a walk-in coffee machine!  That's almost like relaxing inside the udder of a cow waiting for some milk, in a less creepy way. 



    April 11, 2008

    Choose your advertisers wisely

    I was online tonight and ran across a link to the winner of the Miss USA 2008 pageant.  I don't usually track these events, but due to the recent follies, I thought I'd check out the link.


    What I found was somewhat amusing.  The lesson here is that you need to choose your advertisers wisely....  LOL



    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.

    March 07, 2008


    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.

    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

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


    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" <>
    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.
    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" 

    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. 

    Continue reading "Best Business Card Ever" »

    February 28, 2008

    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 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. 


    February 27, 2008

    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:

    • - Primary
    • - Secondary 

    February 26, 2008

    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 08, 2008


    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


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

    #include <stdio.h>
    char *a;
    main(2,_+1,"%s %d %d\n"):9:16:t<0?t<-72?main(_,t,
    ;#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' ')# \
    "!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?


    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!