Friday, 31 August 2007 at 09:00
Biomedical researchers at the Harvard Medical School have made an interesting discovery while working with rats that had, for all intents and purposes, developed Alzheimer's disease - genetically modified rat cells that produce a protein that breaks up amyloid-beta plaques in the brain can reverse the progression of the disease
. At least in part (thus disclaimed because this isn't really my field of expertise), Alzheimer's disease is caused by masses of a protein called amyloid-beta that interfere with the normal operation of neurons in the brain, causing the functionality of neural networks to degrade. There is, however, a protein called neprilysin that breaks up the plaques so that they can be removed by the body. In Alzheimer's patients neprilysin is not manufactured in sufficient quantities by the body, which allows the plaques to build up inside the structure of the brain. Doctors Dennis Selkoe, Vincent and Stella Coates of Harvard Medical decided to take a lateral attack to the problem in the lab: Rather than infuse the test rats with modified viruses to insert the gene that codes for the production of neprilysin, they extracted cells from the rats and modified them in vitro to produce the protein. The cells were then re-infused into the test rats which were allowed to live for some period of time and then killed for examination.
The plaques in the rats' brains were gone.
The question is now, "Will this process work in humans?"
Nobody knows yet. Medical ethics concerns aside, a human brain is much larger and more complex than a rat brain, so at the very least it'll take more time for modified cells to propagate through the brain to do their job. Besides, the research that lead up to this procedure is still in a relatively early state of advancement, so there's no way of knowing what they'll discover next, or whether or not it'll be supplanted by something else. Or, come to think of it, whether or not the procedure will be safe for use in humans - there's always that possibility. As much as I'd like to wave the flag of victory (believe me, I'm all for quality of later life), it's too soon to say that we've got this disease licked.
Still, I hold out hope.
Friday, 31 August 2007 at 08:23
Without the callbacks from the captive audience because those on stage might decide to shoot you.
A couple of days ago Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing
flew into Los Angeles International Airport and was caught up with a large number of her fellow passengers in what could best be described as a game of anti-terrorism freeze tag run by the Department of Homeland Security
. It went down a little something like this: Jardin and other travelers walking through a hallway after leaving the plane (probably the covered gantry that leads from the boarding platform into the airport terminal (the so-called secure area)) were commanded to freeze in place by armed DHS agents and private security personnel who blocked off the corridor. Anyone who tried to go anywhere, even if it was to sit down in a nearby chair was screamed at by security to not move. This went on for a good thirty minutes without any real explanation - "security review" doesn't cut it in my book, thanks. If you're going to hold a home team action review, involving civilians is going to complicate matters needlessly because they won't have any idea of what in the hell is happening to them, and some of them just might interfere with the stated exercise. Sadly, nobody did, presumably because airport security teams these days tend to be armed and willing to put days worth of hurt on your lifestyle for daring to ask the question "Why?"
If you read the comments to this article, LAX isn't the only place that this has happened. People have reported going through it at Portland International (PDX), Nashville, and Orlando.
I think that one of the commenters to that post is on the right track: Airport security does this to scare the hell out of people and see whom they can make panic and make a run for it.
Thursday, 30 August 2007 at 12:21
Some days, I just feel like this at the office.
Wednesday, 29 August 2007 at 12:38
If you've been following the saga of Torrentspy
, then you know that the Motion Picture Association of America has been trying to force the website's admins to start logging all of the activity on their site so that the MPAA can then subpoena the records and track down people who've been illegally downloading pirated movies. Per the prediction of the time, Torrentspy
started blocking all access attempts that originate from the United States rather than a) shut down, or b) have to turn on web server logging. Well, things have gotten more interesting in the case because the magistrate of the district court of California has demanded that the admins of Torrentspy turn over the contents of the RAM of the servers running the website
for forensic analysis. This means little, actually, because the servers are in the Netherlands and not the United States, and the court case hasn't progressed to the higher US courts yet, but the point remains that they're going to try to get their hands on whatever information they can to start slinging lawsuits.
I wonder what would happen if someone powered each one of those boxes down and mailed the MPAA the now empty memory modules...
As a technical aside, what they're asking for is this: Every web server maintains in memory a list of IP addresses and source ports for every connection, so that the HTTP server process knows where to send the requested files to. It is possible but optional for the web server software to write to disk data representing an HTTP transaction. For example, the logs of the Apache web server
can look something like this:
ip.add.re.ss - - [25/Aug/2007:05:36:10 -0400] "GET /rss.xml HTTP/1.1" 304 - "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux; en-US; rv:w.x.y.z) Gecko/20060517 Firefox/2.0"
But Torrentspy doesn't store logs, so the MPAA wants to look at the raw lists of IP addresses and requests from memory, which is something of a crapshoot because the contents of a computer's memory are constantly in a state of flux. Every process on a machine has a limited amount of memory at its disposal, and so the memory containing older data are deallocated so that it can be reused. The older data is often overwritten in the process by something else. To prevent servers from having to swap memory to disk (which degrades system performance), it is common to give each physical computer scads of RAM so that they don't have to swap out.
It would make sense for the lawsuit to demand both dumps of RAM in each server as well as copies of the swap partitions of the physical servers but so far they haven't figured that out. If they have, it's not mentioned in this article.
Net result: Little to no usable evidence for the MPAA. Most of what they'd be getting wouldn't even be from the States, anyway.
As for people in the US who want to search for torrents, there are scads of ways to browse Torrentspy without appearing to be in the US. I leave this as an exercise for the reader.
Monday, 27 August 2007 at 21:37
Truer words were never spoken.
Monday, 27 August 2007 at 16:33
The Wachowski brothers, who made their names in Hollywood with the Matrix
trilogy, are bringing the classic anime Speed Racer to the silver screen as a live action movie
with a projected release date of 9 May 2008. True to form, they're pushing the envelope of video technology yet again with a new digital video camera that will keep the entire frame in focus at all times, giving the same visual style that you would see if you were watching a cartoon.
Go ahead. Watch a movie, then watch a cartoon, and compare the relative sizes and distances in each screen-scene. I'll wait.
Susan Sarandon will be playing Mom; John Goodman is playing Pops Racer; Christina Ricci is playing Trixie; and Emile Hirsch is playing Greg "Speed" Racer. IMDB has more information over here
It seems that major plot points will have to do with corruption in sports and illegal gambling to increase the profits of a select few. No social commentary there. Looking at the character names, they're trying to keep it as close as possible to the American translation of the original anime series, which is going to keep the attention of little ones in the theatres and will give the rest of us a few chuckles as we fondly remember the early 1980's.
and now this... yeah, I'll be there. I used to be a huge fan of Speed Racer
when I was little.
As always, time will tell how good a movie it'll turn out to be.
Monday, 27 August 2007 at 09:01
It's finally been made official: As of the end of August 2007, Alberto Gonzalez will no longer be attorney general of the United States of America
. Rumors leaked out last week but official press releases have hit the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal
. It's been said that he phoned up George W. Bush and resigned via telephone, probably while en route back to the state of Texas. A replacement has not yet been chosen, but given how Bush operates he already has someone lined up and ready to install. It's a little like Patch Tuesday
in how political appointees are queued up these days. Gonzalez has been drawing heat since the get-go for, well, just about everything he's been involved in, but up until last week he'd been sticking it out in his position like anyone assured that nothing can go wrong for them, even after the recent Congressional inquiries in which most everyone put on the stand stonewalled them with the words "Executive Privilege."
To Mr. Gonzalez, I can only say this: Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out, and hope that your friendly neighborhood sysadmins weren't backing up anyone's e-mail.
Saturday, 25 August 2007 at 17:38
Thursday, 23 August 2007 at 23:35
I first saw this on CNN
last Saturday while waiting at the car dealership while the TARDIS was undergoing its yearly inspection: A company called MJ Safety Solutions is hawking bulletproof backpacks for kids and travelers
to protect them in the event that someone draws a firearm and starts shooting at people. The backpacks weigh about 1.25 pounds and are meant to either stop the wearer from being shot in the back, or they can be used to provide a measure of protection to the head and torso if the backpack is removed and used as a shield. A little digging on the CNN website revealed the video clip they showed on television that I mentioned earlier
. The bulletproof inserts of the backpacks were designed with school shootings in mind; research showed that, by and large, 9mm pistols firing hollowpoint bullets were fired, so that's what the inserts are best at stopping. The video shows a backpack taking a couple of rounds at close range and stopping the bullets successfully. There's just one thing about bulletproof gear, though: Even though the bullet can't perform its intended job (which is to burrow into the target and expand or fracture into shrapnel, thus imparting its kinetic energy), it will instead dump its kinetic energy into the barrier that stopped it.
In other words, if the barrier isn't securely fastened to something heavy (like the ground), both the barrier and the wielder are going to go flying and possibly also break a couple of bones because the bulletproof barrier is going to slam into the person wearing or holding it at speed.
You know, come to think of it, this is the sort of thing that you're likely to find in a game like Cybergeneration
: Kids carrying bulletproof armor disguised as school gear. As for whether or not this product will take off, neither RPGs nor I can reliably predict, though the price tag ($175us) is reasonable for a middle class family afraid of losing their children in another Columbine-style massacre.
Another factor to take into account is legality: It isn't always easy to determine whether or not it's legal in your state of residence to own or wear bullet proof armor. After some asking around and digging, this is probably the best source for the information at this time
, short of phoning your local or state government and social engineering your way to someone who is actually qualified to answer this question (a much more difficult task than it sounds - just ask anyone who's tried to find out if they could legally have encryption software on a laptop headed out of the country in the late 90's and early 00's). So far as is known, it's legal to own and wear body armor in any state but Connecticut unless you've been convicted of a felony in the past. Of course, it's a felony to wear body armor while you're committing a crime.
Thursday, 23 August 2007 at 22:44
The Chinese government has decreed that - get this - they have officially banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission
I can't make this stuff up, folks.
Well, I actually could, but that's beside the point. Resuming...
They went so far as to draft official procedures by which one could apply for permission to reincarnate on the material plane in the future. It sounds daffy, but scholars of the Buddhist path have said that this could be a move on the part of the Chinese regeime (which doesn't much like religion of any kind, not just Buddhism) to block some of the Dali Lama's influence over Tibetan Buddhism, and possibly to slow down the Buddhist sects in Tibet that they've been trying to knock out for over half a century. Moreover, in a metaphysical sense, this might be an attempt on their part to control who the next Dali Lama
will be in the future, because it's widely thought by scholars that the next Dali Lama will take the form of one of the 130,000+ Tibetan exiles scattered throughout the world. So their reasoning goes, if they control the incarnation of the next Dali Lama, they could control one of their biggest pains in the ass.
Afficionados of Mage
and Unknown Armies
will no doubt want to take this news story and run with it in their games.
Thursday, 23 August 2007 at 21:51
The best meetings are those with wireless net.access and freely flowing coffee.
Thursday, 23 August 2007 at 21:46
People actually fell for this?
Thursday, 23 August 2007 at 21:41
This one's for you, Pegritz.
Thursday, 23 August 2007 at 21:37
Taken during the rainstorm last Sunday night
Tuesday, 21 August 2007 at 23:02
I'm in the field again on assignment, this time well south of the Mason-Dixon line. Far enough south, in fact, that people actually have accents, and truck stops are the primary means of acquiring what one needs to live, such as food, fuel, and automobile parts. It seems that my cow-orker and I didn't get the luck of the draw when it came to the hotel this time. We're staying in hotel that specializes in hosting conventions and conferences near the beach, but doesn't specialize in actually putting people up for the night. On the whole, it's not such a bad place - it's got four walls, a ceiling, a floor, and a floor-to-ceiling window.. that overlooks the highway, parking lot, and all night breakfast restaurant. I've already had to use sundry tools from my field kit to reinforce the lock on the door because it's in pretty bad shape, and there really isn't a closet. There is a triangular shaped nook about the size of my laptop with a hanger rack mounted to the wall. The bathroom, such as it is, is also on the small side, so much so that I keep running into the door because the full length mirror casts the illusion that there's more space than there really is.
Still, the water's hot and I'm not paying for the net.access... most of my time is spent in the field. I guess I've been spoiled by the hotels I stayed at while in Maryland.
Last Saturday was something of a rush to get everything done because Lyssa and I had plans for the evening: She was out with Orthaevelve and Jennifer while I stayed home and cleaned and did laundry to get as much as I could out of the way for two reasons: So that I could go on the road again, and so that I could meet her at the Border's store at Bailey's Crossroads for the William Gibson
book signing because his new novel...
..that was interesting. The hotel's net.access counts down exactly
twenty-four hours from the last time you accepted the client agreement, and it cuts you off the nanosecond that clock rolls over. Yet one more reason I don't think that I like this place.
Anyway, Gibson was signing his new novel, Spook Country
, so of course I had to go, partially to pick up a copy in the hopes that I'd have time in the near future to actually sit down and read it, and partially because I wanted to get a few more things from my collection signed. What can I say, Gibson's work pretty much made me what I am today, which I suppose puts me squarely into the category of 'fanthing'.
Because Lyssa had been out that afternoon at a jewelry and wholesaler's store a couple of counties over, I drove out to Border's to meet her that evening...
More under the cut...
Monday, 20 August 2007 at 23:09
You know, I really should be writing real content for my website right about now. Until then, here's the latest revision of my .plan file
(run! hide!), and my photographs from the William Gibson book signing
on 18 August 2007 at the Border's at Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia.
Monday, 20 August 2007 at 23:04
A tour of the Goddard Space Flight Center
, Greenbelt, Maryland.
Monday, 20 August 2007 at 22:45
Monday, 20 August 2007 at 22:17
Read the requirements to get that 'free lunch'.
Friday, 17 August 2007 at 15:05
Since almost the beginning of Iraq II, the US military has been concerned about bloggers leaking information about upcoming operations and situations in the field that hadn't been cleaned up yet. Lately, they've been commanding troops to police their weblogs and clear all posts through a superior officer before actually posting in the hopes of minimizing the amount of sensitive information that gets out, which makes sense when you think about it. Remember what Geraldo Rivera did back in 2003
? URLs and names of blogs have to be registered with the chain of command so that they can keep an eye on what's being said, and to that end they assembled a team of ten members of the Virginia National Guard called the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell to find and police weblogs for accidental or deliberate unauthorized information disclosure. In the process they discovered something interesting: Classified information is leaked on official US military websites far more often than on private weblogs
. A study conducted by the AWRAC has shown that information with a classification of SECRET or higher has appeared over 1800 times on 878 official .mil websites, contrasted with 28 legitimate OPSEC breaches over nearly 600 weblogs belonging to military personnel in the field. This had lead people to speculate that the regulations were not put in place for the purposes of OPSEC but to discourage enlisted men and women from blogging at all.
Thursday, 16 August 2007 at 13:51
Geneticists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
have developed a new cell culturing medium that does something amazing: It allows human cells to transform into so-called 'queen' cancer cells
, cancer cells that reproduce rapidly and produce mutants that become the actual tumours. Think of them as stem cells that specialize in producing cancers as we normally think of them. Not all malignant cells are capable of doing this, most just sit there and use up resources and oxygen and reproduce, but don't actually break off and spread to other parts of the body. This germ line of cells came about as a result of research into cellular suspension culturing media (the liquid that cells grow in while in vitro) for a particular kind of cancer cell that hadn't been successfully cultured before. The cells were transformed into cancer cells through the insertion of a number of genes known to be involved in malignant activity. What wasn't expected was how vigorously the cells would reproduce - mice injected with as few as 100 of the cells succumbed to monsterous cancer growth in mere days.
The implications for genetic engineering and hybridoma
research (there's an awesome page about this field of genetics over here at the Rochester Institute of Technology
) are fantastic: Now there can be other germ lines of cells that can be worked with using standard bioengineering techniques. Of course, saying that isn't to denigrate research into finding cures for cancer as a whole: These cells can give medical science insight into how tumors develop, how they spread, how they utilize resources, and how they grow, all while in the lab. This is an unprecedented opportunity to develop new treatments for cancer in humans, and perhaps find ways of hacking old ones to work on different sorts of cancers.
Thursday, 16 August 2007 at 13:13
High school freshmen in Englewood, New Jersey will begin a puzzling new programme this fall, which will require them to pick their majors in college their freshman year
, an act that will then dictate their primary classes and electives for the next four years. The programme was begun as an experimental effort to prop up falling test scores and help the students focus upon their eventual goals (aside from getting the hell out of high school, which is everyone's imperative at that age). Not all of the parents are convinced that it's a good idea, and that it smacks too much of preprofessional conditioning for a workforce that will have changed completely by the time the students graduate from college a number of years beyond their senior year. It is said that other high schools are experimenting with similar programmes now, also - schools in New York, North Carolina, Florida, and elsewhere.
I really doubt it's going to work. The school district I graduated from in the mid 90's tried something like this back in '91, a project called RIGOR (which I no longer remember the meaning of), but the gist was that we chose our eventual careers in eighth grade just before beginning high school (three guesses what mine was, and the first two don't count), and that built our curricula throughout high school, which lead to not a few problems because the class scheduling system never quite worked the way it was supposed to. A few classes that accidentally had 100 students in attendance because there were insufficient sections open come immediately to mind... as for how well my graduating class did, I am told that we are still held up as the single worst class in the history of the district for a number of reasons, chiefly among them disciplinary problems. If you want to know how successful as a group my graduating class was... I have no idea.
RIGOR also severely restricted what we could and couldn't take - if you were on an engineering track, you could look forward to physical sciences and mathematics in addition to the usual stuff that high school students have to sit through (like English Lit and phys.ed) but if you had any other interests you'd have to wait for after school or the weekend to indulge in them (such as psychology or metalworking shop). In short, there was no real way to change mental gears to exercise another part of your mind, and that's been shown to lead to overall impaired performance (as well as boredom, which is the bane of any high school teacher).
Forgive my cynicism, but I've been there and done that. Being well-rounded is an advantage in an informationally rich environment, not a bane, and this is something that most tracking programmes do not permit. Being able to look at things from different perspectives (history, sociology, mathematics, dot dot dot) makes it possible to come up with new solutions to tricky (or once-thought intractable) problems. The ability to synthesize knowledge is a skill rapidly vanishing from North American culture because it poses problems for teachers who may not be equipped to handle creative answers to questions that really aren't as cut-and-dried as they seem (take for example ethics, which were taught in my US citizenship classes).
Wednesday, 15 August 2007 at 16:05
A bioengineering firm called LS9
has done something remarkable with the bacteria e.coli (the Swiss Army Knife of gengineering) - they successfully engineered a strain to produce arbitrary hydrocarbon compounds
in addition to the usual fatty acids that life on this planet uses to store energy. Specifically, the bacterial strains almost produce the hydrocarbons that are normally pumped out of the ground in the form of crude oil and then fractionated ("cracked") into different substances. Mix the right hydrocarbons together and you get gasoline. Or diesel fuel. Or the raw materials needed to make plastics.
I say 'almost' because the hydrocarbons still have attached to them a carboxyl group
as a by-product of the bacteria's synthesis process. Those are actually pretty easy to remove, however. Much more easily (and in a far less polluting manner) than the cracking process crude oil normally undergoes.
In some sub-strains existing genes in the e.coli genome were tweaked to produce a slightly different compound. In other sub-strains new genes were designed from scratch and installed (probably through plasmid uptake). No matter how you cut it, this is a breakthrough in both genetic engineering and petroleum research. I don't know if their bacterial strains can produce whole crude oil (as it's usually thought of) yet, but they can definitely synthesize discrete as well as some mixtures of hydrocarbons in usable quantities.
LS9 will bring a test plant online in California sometime in 2008 to perfect the process, and they hope to start producing biodiesel and synthetic hydrocarbon crude mixtures inside of five years.
Another company, Amyris Biotechnologies
is working on similar projects, only they're engineering microbes that will produce whole fuels (like gasoline), which would obviate the need for any processing at all.
No word yet if Big Oil is going to sue them into a smoking hole in the ground.
Wednesday, 15 August 2007 at 12:28
People who remember the phone phreaking scene of the 1980's will no doubt be saddened to hear of the passing of Joe Engressia, who used the name Joybubbles toward the end of his life
. Engressia, who was blind since birth, was famous for his sense of perfect pitch that let him whistle a 2600 Hz
tone that was used to denote a usable telephony trunk during the days before electronic telephony switching. Playing this tone into a phone line at the time would allow someone with a blue box to manipulate the telephone switching network manually. Engressia was also known for figuring out which pairs of notes on the piano which, when recorded and played back at twice normal speed, could be used to generate the other tones necessary for manipulating routing.
It is thought that he died between 3 and 7 August 2007, as he was found in his apartment after going missing for a few days. A coroner's inquest is underway, but it is thought that he died of a heart attack at the age of 58.
Seeya 'round, Whistler
... I wish we could have jammed together.
I'm sorry that what happened, happened.
Wednesday, 15 August 2007 at 12:16
Between getting back home from a field assignment late on Friday night, recovering from two weeks on the road eating way too much takeout, and stuff happening at home, I haven't had much time to do anything in the way of writing. I can honestly say that it hasn't been a boring couple of weeks, but there's a lot to be said for sitting at home engaging in a high impact workout (read, my glutius maximii striking the couch at -9.8 m/s^2 once a night for five nights) to unwind.
On Monday night after work and dinner with Lyssa and Laurelinde I trucked out to Seele
's apartment in Maryland for her birthday party, and spent most of the evening with people that I haven't seen in far too long, save for the occasional glimpse on IRC when I have time to see who's about. Much of the night was spent lounging around watching people play deceptively tricky games on the Nintendo Wii
, one of the Wario game collections that I don't remember the name of. I have to admit, I can see why people like the Wii so much - the graphics were done in the cartoon style of the mid 80's that I happen to be fond of, which is really hard to do on a computer, and they are a lot of fun. There was also a strong undercurrent of surreality in some of the games, to the extent that I was waiting to hear a Voltaire
song or two, which sadly didn't happen. Later in the evening we cut Seele's ice cream cake, which turned out to be wonderful. It's hard to find good ice cream down here...
It's probably the subliminal messages embedded in the Wii's games kicking in after two days.
All in all, I had a good time with everyone on Monday night. I got home around 2300 EST5EDT but made the mistake of staying up until 0100 local time checking my e-mail (work-related and not) and talking to Lyssa and Laurelinde to catch up. I slept only fitfully that night, and got up shortly before 0600 local time to get ready for work. In hindsight this was probably a bad idea because I was still dragging from the week before...
More under the cut...
Thursday, 09 August 2007 at 18:12
It's official - the new release from Information Society, entitled Synthesizer
will be released for general sale the first week of October, 2007. However, there is a limited edition of the album available right now
, and like before there are only 1000 copies being made. Once they're gone, they're gone, and you'll have to wait two more months before you can buy it.
So... who just got paid?
Thursday, 09 August 2007 at 16:41
Last night was another small-group-dinner with the guys from work, meaning that we had a fairly easy time of deciding where to eat. With some trepidation we asked the front desk of our hotel for advice about where we should get dinner, because lately we've gotten bad advice from them. To be accurate, we got bad directions from them. The woman behind the front desk dug around in one of the three-ring binders behind the counter and fished out directions to Jerry's Seafood
(9364 Lanham-Severn Road; Lanham, MD, 20706; phone 301-577-0333; fax 301-577-5926), which happened to be as few exits down the highway from our hotel. So, directions in hand, the three of us piled into M-'s car and we set forth for dinner and adventure. Much to our surprise, we found the restaurant without a whole lot of trouble. Note to self: Trust Mapquest even less.
Jerry's is a hole in the wall place tucked into a strip mall on the left hand side of the road next to a dodgy-looking buffet called Asia Hut, which was the cause of not a few jokes among the three of us. Jerry's has a battered set of steel double doors on the front of the restaurant, with a sign admonishing us that we might be in for a wait: It could be fifteen minutes under diners are seated, or it could be two hours. It might also be up to two hours before your food is served. Also, they stop seating people at 2000 EST5EDT, so if you plan on eating at Jerry's, get there early, preferably before the dinnertime rush.
At least they're honest, we figured. So, we opened the doors and were confronted with a packed restaurant - most every table was taken up by merry diners eating and having a good old time, with just enough space between the tables for the waitstaff to scurry to and fro. "A packed restaurant full of people obviously enjoying themselves," I observed. "A good sign."
We flagged down a hostess and asked for a table.
"You might have to wait about an hour," she told us, so we sat outside in the deck chairs and proceeded to wait. I'm glad that I brought a book with me... I have to admit, we were wondering if the wait was going to be worth it, or if we were being strung along.
More under the cut...
Tuesday, 07 August 2007 at 20:51
Earlier this evening, one of my cow-orkers and I decided to try a restaurant a bit closer to our hotel. Off and on all last week, we kept seeing the Bombay Masala
(8825 Greenbelt Road; Greenbelt, MD 20770; phone 301-552-1600) in a nearby strip mall, but hadn't had a chance to pay it a visit for dinner or lunch, partially due to the size of the group that usually went. But, this was one of those nights in which everybody else was off doing something different, so deciding where to go was a simple matter.
The Bombay Masala is a small restaurant as they go, a virtual hole in the wall in the middle of the parking lot of the local shopping complex. It wasn't very crowded when we were there but the waitstaff kept an eye on us and brought out food as soon as they saw an opening in the conversation. The samosas I'd ordered for an appetizer were piping hot and difficult to hold, much less eat when they hit the table. The vegetable pakora was also tasty, though I don't know how much of it was actually vegetable. M- and I pondered them for a while, and decided that they were more potato and cheese than anything else. Still, they were far from disagreeable. I thought the matter paneer a bit on the bland side but the texture more than made up for it. I must admit, the lamb palak was very impressive - it was tender, grilled to perfection, and had its own taste in addition to that of the marinade. As if that weren't enough, the onion kulcha, for a change, tasted like onions as well as having their texture - a first for indian food in Maryland!
I give the Bombay Masala one and one-half flareguns out of a possible four - the service was a little bit slow (still, better than what we've been getting lately) but well worth the wait. Stop in if you like indian food. I'll definitely be paying them another visit while I'm out there.
Tuesday, 07 August 2007 at 15:38
Earlier this year, pen-testers hired by the Internal Revenue Service attempted a time-worn attack as part of their assignment: They phoned up 102 people who work at an IRS office while pretending to be tech support and asked them for their usernames. The people called were also asked if they could temporarily change their passwords to something simple (love? sex? secret? god?) as part of a troubleshooting effort.
61 of the 102 people complied with the request of complete and total strangers.
If this hadn't been a pen-test, those office networks would have been sitting ducks. Only eight people called someone they knew in their organization to confirm the identity of the individuals who called them up out of the blue (and not help the callers, one would hope).
Some of these people were management
, for crying out loud - the people who are supposed to write the policies that are supposed to prevent people from doing dumb things like this. If they'd give out their usernames so readily to total strangers, what else would they do if requested? Go to a certain URL in Internet Explorer and potentially compromise their workstations? Download and run a certain application from Somewhere Out There (like a trojan horse or RAT
)? How about read off some SBU (sensitive but unclassified) information, such as the IP address of a certain publically accessible server? This is a social engineering tactic so old that I babysat its grandkids for pocket money in high school!
For the love of Saint Isidore
, if you're management or IT, instruct your end users to not blindly follow the directions of someone who randomly calls or IMs them while they're at work asking them to run commands or give out their login credentials. Tell them who to call to confirm the identities of people contacting them with such requests, even if it's just their supervisor. If they have any doubt, they need to confirm with someone they know is in their organization. The thing about social engineering attacks is that they can be used to open other attack vectors from the inside, including vulnerabilities at the desktop.
Tuesday, 07 August 2007 at 14:57
Recently, an experiment was performed at Stanford in which children aged 3 to 5 were presented with various foods (including vegetables and milk, which a vanishing number of kids like anyway at that age), some wrapped in McDonald's packaging, and some in plain packaging. The children were asked to state which tasted better to them after trying the foods. Somehow unsurprisingly, they liked the foods that they thought were from McDonald's better
, which says a lot for conditioning to particular images as well as the power of suggestion. People start assimilating ideas presented by advertising at an extremely young age, it seems, young enough that it begins to affect their perceptions in interesting ways. A lot of work goes into making things look bright, shiny, and most of all desirable
- advertising hits all of those little buttons in the first four circuits of the brain that make us want to buy this or that, or go here or there almost like a pianist playing a sonata. It's a fine art that takes a light yet quick touch.
Parents to be should take note of this tactic when trying to get their little ones to eat their broccoli.
Monday, 06 August 2007 at 22:04
Here's a cute animation that steampunks out there will get a kick out of. There are gentlemanly disagreements, there are duels, and then there's going toe-to-toe in steam powered mecha
for the hand of a woman of noble extraction.
Oh, and a break for low tea.
Monday, 06 August 2007 at 00:12
If you've read my website for any length of time, you're probably aware of the fact that I am very much a privacy advocate - I think that it is none of anyone's business what you search for on the Net, what you read, or where you go. Furthermore, it is also a closely held belief of mine that so long as you aren't bothering anyone, aren't causing trouble, and aren't doing anything to anyone of legal age in your country of residence that's hurting anyone (or if it is, it's consensual and has been negotiated for in advance), it is no one's business unless you go public with it for some reason. This extends to things that you write and communique's that you send unless you make them available to the public to read (such as posting to a weblog or a mailing list). Unfortunately in the twenty-first century, there are people who feel that privacy is fast becoming an outmoded concept and that we should get used to having none. In fact, I personally know a number of people who are deliberately dismantling their personal privacy as part of a deliberate social re-engineering effort. I've also heard some good arguments in favor of this (particularly from the transhumanism
camp) that I respectfully disagree with. There are also a considerable number of people who feel that privacy and anonymity are dangerous because their notion of privacy is predicated by the idea that wanting to keep something secret (even something as mundane as a letter to your fiancee') is inherently incriminating. "If you aren't up to no good," they say, "then you don't have anything to hide."
Again, I disagree with this sentiment. Desiring privacy does not mean that you are hiding any wrongdoing, but keeping right
-doing out of the spotlight of the natural desire for dignity, as well as showing respect for your fellow sapient lifeform. Generally speaking, if it's not explicitly shared or exposed in a public setting in front of everyone else then it's none of anyone's concern. In other words, it's not about hiding a wrong, and never has been regardless of what people may say to the contrary, regardless of the number of letters after their surnames.
For the past few years I've been working with a number of anonymity preserving technologies in various states of maturity and usability, Freenet and the Tor network, and documenting how well they work, what they're good for, and how to use them effectively.
Let's start this series of articles off with Freenet.
More under the cut...
Sunday, 05 August 2007 at 23:49
I'm back in Maryland on week two of (possibly two, possibly three) of my field assignment. I'm in another hotel in the same general vicinity as before and approaching dead tired after a long weekend of hot weather, running around, and pulling all nighters of one sort or another. I was running rather late today because I had a number of errands to run, which I took care of before starting the laundry, but now it's academic because it all worked out. Thankfully, the headache and aftermath of heatstroke last night went away while I slept, so I woke up feeling surprisingly good and well-rested. Looking at the current local time, I really should get to bed myself to get some rest for a long day tomorrow.
If nothing else, it's nice to be a in a slightly larger room than before with both wireless and hardwired net.access, so I can easily work from the bed instead of the standard issue desk in the corner. There is also a fridge and a microwave in the room, which is a major upgrade from before. The bed is much larger than the one at home, which I relish because I can sprawl out without trouble.
Lyssa got three more piercings yesterday while she was out with Laurelinde - another pair of hoops in her ears (with very tiny rings) and a cartilage piercing near the top of her right ear. She looks great with the extra hardware.. when everything heals, I'm going to try sticking small magnets to the rings to hang stuff from.
In other news, Sci-Fi really did cancel the Dresden Files
. There went my last reason for watching television.
The US House of Representatives signed a bill that expands the warrantless wiretapping laws yet again
, amidst considerable protest from the rest of the country. More and more it becomes apparent that They aren't listening to the people who theoretically elected them to their posts.
Okay, enough of my pretending to be fully coherent right now. I'm off to bed. More as time permits.
Sunday, 05 August 2007 at 11:30
Yesterday afternoon, downtown Washington, DC saw a number of brightly coloured rainbow kites of all shapes and sizes added to it sky for LGBT Kite Day 2007
, the local LGBT community's way of tugging on the sleeve of the people in power to remind them that we're here, we pay our taxes, and we vote.
Because I just about pulled an all-nighter Friday night I wound up sleeping until 1100 EST5EDT on Saturday morning, so I didn't get the early start that I hoped to have. In fact, I left the apartment shortly after noon local time and hiked to the Metro station to catch a train headed downtown. This should have been my first sign that Saturday was going to be a rough one - the air temperature outside started at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and peaked somewhere around 100 degrees yesterday afternoon. On top of that, I had a hell of a time finding the meetup site on the ground because the area surrounding the Washington Monument is big. Very big, and easy to get lost in. As if that weren't enough, I had a hell of a time finding anyone who could direct me in the right direction, so I wound up wandering around for the better part of an hour looking for any signs of kites in the air, Hasufin, Mika, or anyone else.
I eventually found the right direction and saw a single kite in the air... and lots of very smart people sitting in the shade underneath the trees waiting for the wind to pick up and the heat to die down a little.
More under the cut...
Saturday, 04 August 2007 at 21:31
It's been that kind of day.
More under the cut...
Thursday, 02 August 2007 at 23:12
During my tenure in Maryland while on assignment, I've been given the opportunity to try the cuisine of not a few restaurants in the general area (I don't have much of a choice, having neither microwave nor refrigerator in my hotel room), much to the chagrin of my wasteline. At any rate, some days my colleagues and I are in the mood for something near the top of the ladder in terms of quality, and sometimes we're after something more down-home and tasty... proximity to our hotels is also a nice thing.
On Tuesday evening we found ourselves at Bennigan's Grill and Tavern
(6002 Greenbelt Road;
Greenbelt, MD 20770; phone 301-982-9780) for happy hour. It was a hop, a skip, and a jump away from the hotel so after we got together at another of the hotels and figured out the driving arrangements the trip was rapid, even at rush hour. It's conveniently located in our local run-down strip mall next door to the Chipotle Burrito franchise. Service at Bennigan's wasn't bad - our waiter was attentive and moved fast to keep our party of six thirsty techies (somehow, calling guys who've been working with computers longer than I've been alive
geeks doesn't seem right) happy. Or tried to.
For the love of all hardware that doesn't run Windows NT, how the hell do you screw up iced tea?!
No, seriously - the two guys who ordered iced tea received tall glasses of something that almost but wasn't quite entirely unlike iced tea. It was sour and undrinkable... even the waiter, after trying it, looked as if he was about to spit it back. Maybe they forgot to clean the teapot in the kitchen, none of us knew. All I do know is that the next round was much better than the first. The food wasn't bad there, I have to be honest - the buffalo chicken tenders (hey, stop laughing!) were tasty and not overdone; everyone else reported similarly that their meals were good, and more than made up for the botched tea earlier.
Oh, do try Abbey's Apple Sizzler for dessert, I'm told.
Final rating: Two flareguns out of four. If you're in Maryland, give 'em a shot for dinner.
Wednesday, 01 August 2007 at 22:14
Dear jackasses drag racing on the highway a fraction of a block away from my hotel:
Please stop driving like you're trying out for NASCAR. Yes, you've probably sunk a couple of thousand dollars American into your cars. The rest of us don't care. You don't seem to understand that the purpose of a muffler on a vehicle's exhaust system is to quiet the noise that your vehicle's engine makes. Your cars don't sound more powerful, they sound like they need a trip to the garage because they're malfunctioning. If you continue weaving in and out of traffic like you're playing a video game, the police will track you by the waste noise your vehicles produce. You also run the risk of wrecking at high speed and injuring a lot of people who don't need victimized by your idiocy if you fuck up while driving like maniacs.