The past couple of nights have been busy ones, though not painfully so. Our weekly stitch-and-bitch had been moved up to Wednesday so that Elwing could join us after work, along with Hasufin, Hummingwolf, Orthaevelve, and Kyrin, who'd been effectively out of action for a couple of weeks since the new year started. As it turned out, I had to run to the Metro station to get Hummingwolf, drop her off at home, then head out to get Orthaevelve at her place, drop her off, and then set out for Micro Center to pick up something for work. Seeing as how I didn't have a full-sized keyboard to work on for most of the day (well, all day, to be precise), I wanted to pick up something that was light and readily transportable and yet bigger than Luel's built-in keyboard. After some fruitful searching of the shelves (note to self: try to get one of those huge gaming keyboards cheap so I can hack around with them) I eventually settled on an Adesso USB/PS2 miniature keyboard due to the size and placement of the keys (they are much closer to that of a much larger, desktop replacement laptop), the stroke action of the keys (I find the sensitivity of the keys 'just right', and on top of that it clicks nicely (I'm big on auditory feedback in my consoles)), and it's light enough to tuck into my backpack along with everything else I carry to and from work on a daily basis. My wrists haven't been bothering me since I bought this keyboard, and I must confess I'm quite taken with it. I'd even recommend it to everyone, even though I usually suggest to everyone that they figure out on their own what keyboards to use (due to RST and all that rot).
Last night we got together again with Orthaevelve and Jason (a friend of O's) after a bungled first attempt to get together for dinner (neither Lyssa nor I heard our phones ring while we prepped the pork shoulder to marinate in the fridge overnight). Eventually, we loaded ourselves into Jason's 4x4 and headed in the general direction of downtown Fairfax, Virginia, to try out a new Mexican restaurant (to Lyssa and I) called the Coyote Grille (Main Street Marketplace; 10266 Main Street; Fairfax, VA, 22030; phone number 703-591-0006).
The Coyote Grille is definitely one of Virginia's better kept secrets. The salsa there is indeed addictive, and you'll get bottomless bowls of salsa and tortilla chips just for sitting down and ordering something. We're pretty sure that the queso dip has beer in it, which gave the cheese a slight undernote that I can best describe as savory or slightly tart, which on the whole worked well. The chicken enchiladas were very tasty and even though the plate was all but covered with the entree', it happened to be just enough to fill me up. Everyone else at the table mentioned the same thing from their respective meals - they give you just enough to satisfy your hunger. I give them a heart-felt rating of one flaregun - go here if you're in northern Virginia.
Have you ever wanted to play with a real robot arm? The University of Western Australia has one available through their website that you can use to move blocks around with. You have to register for an account and use special client software that they supply, and of course you'll have to wait in a queue for your turn to use it, but it's a lot of fun.
Just upgrade to Mozilla Firefox v2.0.x but lose the go button in the URL bar? To get it back follow the instructions in this weblog post under "about:config method", but flip the value of browser.urlbar.hideGoButton from 'false' to 'true', and you'll get it back. You won't even have to restart Firefox. I just did it on Luel and it works like a charm.
Just when you thought attacks couldn't get any more oblique, along come Sebastian Krahmer and George Ou, who figured out how to use Vista's audio playback and voice recognition systems to compromise a box. It started off with Krahmer musing on the Dailydave list about whether or not it would be possible to craft a recording of someone reciting voice commands that could be picked up by Vista Speech Command running on the same box through a plugged in microphone. George Ou took the idea and ran with it, and came up with a couple of .wav files that do things like run a copy of cmd.exe, open Internet Explorer, and go to a particular URL. That URL can cause IE to infect itself with whatever malware you like... thanks to services like TinyURL, a long and convoluted URL can be ground up into something much smaller and easier to speak in such a manner that Speech Command can make use of it.
I think we should call this the Sam Beckett attack, because it involves ostensibly talking to yourself...
The town of El Mirage, Arizona is in a state of shock right now because it was discovered that 12-year old Casey Price, a shy and relatively quiet seventh grade student was actually 29-year old Neil Rodreick III, a convicted sex offender and child molester posing as a twelve-year old. More's the point, his three male 'relatives' were also sex offenders who'd crept into the area. Rodreick used cosmetics and a shaving regemin to enhance his slight build and short stature to appear to be a preteen kid in the local school system. As far as they know, none of them actually went after any kids but they're up on charges of failing to register and announce themselves as sex offenders, which is a felony just about everything these days. There were also caches of child pornography, including homemade movies, found on computers confiscated from the house they shared.
A major precedent has been set in net.law following Apple losing its lawsuit against Apple Insider and O'grady's Power Page. In those lawsuits, Apple sued to uncover the identities of the people who leaked information about an audio playback device that Apple was going to release at some point (I think it was supposed to be the iPod Nano - I don't follow Apple news), and stated that amateur news sites and writers are not covered by the laws that protect professional journalists. The court, however, decided that there is no reliable test that can be used to distinguish legitimate news from illegitimate news. The court also decided that there was no way to differentiate a rumour site from a legit news site, and so the sites should be treated the same as the website of a major newspaper. Now, this doesn't technically cover weblogs or anything like that, even though they can be used for journalism just as much as Mac rumour sites can be, but I think that this legal precedent could be extended to cover them just the same. In the next year or two, I think that there will be a case that will test just supposition.
Network neutrality is back on the docket, in the form of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, introduced to the Senate on 9 January 2007. The last time a bill like this was introduced it was shot down with a vote along partisan lines but thankfully grassroots efforts kept anything bad from happening to the Net as a result. It's time to write your representatives and ask them to vote in favour of this bill, everyone. Get to it.
Well, it seems that
Carnivore DCS-1000 isn't enough to feed
the gaping information maw of the FBI. Rather than sniff the traffic associated
only with a single IP address they've decided to record ALL of the traffic for a given netblock and analyze it offline. For my readers who
don't understand how this might apply to them (you know that I'm headed for the
Fourth Amendment already), here's a quick rundown of the principle.
IP addresses are organised into contiguous blocks that make them easy to manage. If your DSL provider assigns you the IP address 220.127.116.11 with a netmask of 255.255.255.0 (also called a /24), that means that your address is part of a block of 253 others. Technically, it's one of 255 others - .1 is reserved for the default gateway of that netblock and .255 is used to broadcast to every IP address in that block. DCS-1000 was designed to record traffic for one IP address only out of that block - for the sake of argument, let's say that they're watching your IP address (192.168.10.42), and ignore the rest of the traffic with an address in that netblock. The FBI has decided to record traffic for every IP address in that subnet, whether or not you're a part of the investigation or not. That traffic is then analysed for signs of shady activity using unspecified techniques.
What bothers me is the fact that they're not going after a target but are essentially going on fishing expeditions looking for people who are up to anything that even looks vaguely illegal. This can be compared to police officers who park outside of a house to keep an eye on it without probable cause.
Call me crazy, but I thought that it was illegal to listen in on what everyone is doing on the off chance that someone's up to no good. I guess that isn't supposed to matter anymore.
It's come out on the stand that Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary was the one who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to Scooter Libby. He admitted this under oath, but of course he cut a deal so he won't be punished for revealing classified information. The whole thing comes down to Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who got into hot water for researching and writing a report that debunked the party line that Iraq was trying to buy weapons grade Uranium from the country of Niger. Fleischer related to David Gregory (NBC) and John Dickerson (Time Magazine) that it was Wilson's wife who sent him to Niger.. from there, it wasn't hard to figure out who she was and how she had the authority to do so. Of course, after the session was over, everyone and their backup started recanting to the news media, which confuses the issue by stirring up clouds of ass-covering and face-saving.
Technically, Microsoft Windows Vista hasn't even been released yet and the DRM system has been cracked. DRM, the so-called Digital Rights Management system that the MPAA and RIAA are blackmailing hardware and software vendors into supporting so that they can control what you watch or listen to, how, when, and for how long uses strong crypto to encrypt media files and control who and what can access them. In Vista, it's called PMP, the Protected Media Path, and reaches all the way down to the level of the hardware drivers. In theory, if all of the drivers on the system carry digital signatures from Microsoft, the PMP subsystem will allow 'premium content' to be played back within the limits set by the original producer of the file; if there are unsigned ('untrusted') drivers in use, the media playback system might decide to lock out that content, on the off chance that it's actually detected software that can intercept and decrypt the DRM'd content.
The thing is, it seems to be the application that decides whether or not to play back the file, not the drivers on the system, not PMP, and not the Windows kernel. Or at least, that's what the architecture suggests given its behaviour. Therefore, anything in the layers underneath the application can send the app false information to make it think that it's on a trusted machine. This method doesn't use an unsigned device driver, nor does it require that the OS be kicked into test signing mode (where untrusted signatures may be applied to code for the purposes of testing and debugging). Unfortunately, Alex Ionescu hasn't released the code that'll do this, fearing that Microsoft will go after him with the DMCA (just because you aren't a US citizen doesn't mean that they won't and can't - just ask DeCSS author Jon Johansen, whom the MPAA attacked in 2000 even though he's from Norway).
Here's a neat riff on Google Earth: A realtime world map of emergencies around the world, including bird flu outbreaks and toxic spills.
Something that a lot of people might not know: Radiation detection equipment is being deployed more and more in government facilities and major public events (such as the Superbowl) to detect people that might be carrying radioactive materials or even nuclear weapons (the latter is highly improbable for many reasons, most of which have to do with how heavy fissile materials are and the requisite size of nuclear warheads). The reason this is now known is because radiotherapy patients are tripping those alarms in public and are being questioned as a result. Geiger counters are in use at this time at border crossings, seaports, airports, and other major entry and exit points of this country, also. If you're undergoing radiation therapy for cancer or have undergone certain vascular mapping tests that use radioisotopes for imaging purposes, you can set off those detectors as long as a month after the initial dose.
Between 5 and 7 October 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada will be held the International Alchemy Conference at the Palace Station House and Casino. The list of guest speakers at this time includes Robert Allen Bartlett, Dr. Thom Cavalli, and Jeff McBride.
Thank you, thank you, and fuck you, Sun Microsystems for printing "Do you wish to automatically update boot archives?" when you really mean "Your root filesystem is fucked - attempt a fsck(1M)?"
Neat - how to make an invisible bookshelf.
It's been an interesting weekend, to be sure.. Lyssa and I have been in the market for a couple of things lately, namely a bookcase or media shelf of some kind that we can migrate our DVD collection to, and ring binders that we can move our CD collections into while we rip and encode everything. So, to that end, we spent Saturday driving around searching for stuff along those lines. In two days, we didn't find any bookcases anywhere we looked (well, that's not entirely true, I did find one bookcase, a floor model at OfficeMax, but the construction was dodgy at best, cheap-looking plastic at worst, so I decided to pass on it) and the best price on CD binders we could get was $40us for a 280 disk binder. On the whole, definitely not worth the money. Yesterday was a strikeout as well. At least on Saturday I was able to score an upgrade for Luel. Work keeps using up all of my disk space, so I found a good price on a 120 GB laptop hard drive, which I installed in a USB chassis and set about copying everything over, which wound up being an all-afternoon project.
In fact, Luel finished dumping the contents of his existing hard drive to the new one by the time Rialian showed up and I had to leave to pick up Orthaevelve because we were taking her out to dinner at the Bombay Bistro to celebrate her aforementioned book deal. It seemed that night that many other people had much the same idea, because we had a half-hour wait to get a table, which had not happened before that evening. Still, we stood around trying not to scare the mundanes and discussed the direction that Orthaevelve's book was taking and some of the stuff that she has to do to get it ready for publication.
The Bombay Bistro is easily one of the best Indian restarants in the DC area, up there with Tiffin's in Maryland. I think I could have passed on the appetizer on Saturday night, but it went well with the dish whose name I can never remember.
Not only am I poor with the names of people, you see, but I'm also pretty bad with the names of individual dishes.
After dinner we retired to home to hang out and talk. The four of us caught up on what's been going on lately while I hacked more on Luel to fix a bug in GRUB, the bootloader. Either it has to do with the fact that all of the files on the old drive were copied over to the new one, or it has something to do with the fact that the new drive is three tims as big, which might result in flawed calculations on the part of the setup utility. After some hacking, though, I discovered that if I ran through the steps the automatic installer tried and failed to perform by hand, it did the device math right and installed (and booted, let's be clear) successfully). I'm working on a more in-depth analysis to send back to the GRUB project in the form of a patch.
At some point on Saturday night Lyssa broke out the maple wine given to us by Silveraena in Canada and we made a toast to good friends.
Sunday morning brought with it our second futile attempt to find bookshelves and turkey sausage for dinner. It seems that the gods of consumerism were determined to see us stay at home and not do anything this weekend.. we finally found sausage after a trip to the other supermarket (the better one on the other side of town) and returned home to hide from the rest of the world for a while.
Lyssa made dinner (turkey sausage in tomato sauce with onions and peppers) in the slow cooker while I cleaned up the apartment a bit and then set about uploading more photographs to my website. I've got well over a thousand, so this is a project that is probably going to take another couple of weeks, at the very least. That's without factoring in time to build a new firewall and now a new mail server because every time I drop eastern Asia into Lain's firewall rules, they buy another block of IP addresses and the spam starts flowing all over again.
Note to self: Find a way to tap and store the energy used to generate and send spam for technomagickal use.
Note to self: Reconsider building The Server From Hell(tm) and finding a colo facility to host it for me. Maybe at least a terabyte of disk space and two processor cores... possibly two dual-core CPUs.
Hasufin and Mika came over later in the evening for dinner and to watch television with us. Because they don't have cable they can't watch The Dresden Files on Sci-Fi, and due to the snow last week they missed the premiere, but thankfully Sci-Fi re-ran the first episode (actually the third episode shot, entitled Birds of a Feather) at 2000 EST/EDT, and immediately afterward ran the second (the fourth episod, actually), The Boone Identity.
The Boone Identity wasn't a bad episode; in fact, I thought that it was stronger than Birds of a Feather. That, and I'm not much of a fan of "plucky kid" stories, but I digress. The episode gave the viewers a better idea of what Harry's cases tend to be like (there's one thing about books and television shows that people tend to forget, and that is the fact that they are never the boring "cat stuck up a tree" cases - by definition those aren't all that interesting, and don't get told), a bit of background on what his not-all-that-interesting cases tend to be like, and more of an idea of what the cosmology of the television series is.
I consider the television series and the novels by Jim Butcher to be entirely separate - variations on a theme, different takes on the Harry Dresden mythos, parallell worlds, whatever you want to call it. For that reason, there will be different details and mechanics. At this point in the television series, I do not think that one is superior to the other. That's like saying that black polo shirts are superior to navy blue polo shirts, when in fact there isn't much functional difference, just a distinction of preference.
That's something that really gets my goat about fandom, by the way: Hardcore fans treat their personal preferences and prejudices about their particular fandom as scientifically quantifiable facts, when in fact about all they've done is scientifically quantified the fact that they take their fandoms way too seriously and need to drink some milk because all that caffeine can't be good for you.
There is a reason that there are pins that say 'FIJAGDH' - 'Fandom Is Just A God Damned Hobby'.
I can't honestly say that I'm digressing here, because I'm really not. If you look at the Sci-Fi Channel Forums, you will find a lot of what Jim Butcher and Fred Hicks have termed 'nerd rage', which perfectly describes this phenomenon. The people who have never heard of the Harry Dresden novels seem split over whether or not they like the show; the ones who don't like the show are the more vocal ones, so it seems like there are more of them. The people who have read the Dresden Files are also split on the like/dislike issue but tend to make more reasonable arguments, make more comparisons, and generally don't type in all capital letters or forget to use punctuation or the spell checker.
I'm not trying to rag on them or anything, but it really kills your credibility if you rant incoherently, and on the Net that includes expressing oneself in text.
Okay, that actually was a digression, and I'll get back on track.
They are essentially different series with different stories, and thus cannot be readily compared. One of the things about stories told in books is that rarely are there illustrations, the author has to describe what things look like to help the develop a mental image of the action. Some authors do this with just a few sentences, others can go on for paragraphs on end. Another thing is that the author can describe the mechanics of the world the story is set in, either by laying everything out in a third-person omniscent form, or by having one or more of the characters explain things (to the reader, which breaks the fourth wall, or to another character and the reader gets to 'eavesdrop' on the explanation). Again, this can be done well or it can be done poorly; take, for example, the theatrical edit of Bladerunner. It is difficult in the extreme to do the former in a visual format (television or movies) and have it not come across as comic book-cheesy. This is why the first movie adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel Dune is considered by many to be a theatrical stinkburger.
I could go on for a while but I'll save your eyes and cut to the chase: There are some literary conventions that just don't work for movies or television.
Adaptations of books into movies or television shows imply by the definition of the word that some things have to be changed. I just covered the biggest part of that. There are also some things that most people don't really know about that require changes to be made that are not part of the storyline but part of the prodution process, things that the mechanics of filming don't allow for. For example, in the novels Harry drives around in a whipped-to-hell Volkswagon Bug christened "The Blue Beetle", because it's mechanisms are simple enough that the random weirdness that builds up around wizards can't really interfere with them.. most of the time, anyway. In the television show, Harry has a Korean War-era Army surplus Jeep, which incidntally also fits the "wizards and high technology don't mix" part of the cosmology. There's another reason for this: When you see an interior shot of a vehicle in a television show, it was filmed from the outside of the car, part of which has been cut away to show the interior and occupants. For each angle, you need a different car with a different part of the body cut away. This can get very expensive, and chew up the per-episode budget of a show pretty fast. Jeeps from that era don't have solid passenger cabins but rubberised sheets of canvas with plastic windows snapped to an open frame. It's easy to shoot different angles with a Jeep, you just have to unsnap the canvas from one part, resnap the other part, and start filming.
There are also certain aspects of reality that you can freely ignore in a book but if you actually had to look at them while walking down the street you'd have a hard time witing them off as mildly eccentric yet readiy explainable. Or to put it simply, "There's a seven-foot tall guy walking down West Cermak Road carrying a wooden staff covered with glowing runes!"
In a book you can write it off as "most people don't pay any attention to it because its too subtle," but onscreen it's too hard to suspend the belief that everyone else in the scene wouldn't see it. This is one of the reasons that the character of Harry will carry a hockey stick in the series - it's easier to believe that he's on his way to or from a hockey game and stopped off someplace to run an errand. This is a stylistic choice. So is making Harry's shield bracelet a leather strap with a couple of copper shields on it: While you can imagine a little silver chainlink bracelet while reading a book, you really can't see one very well on screen.
There are lots of other things about the adaptation that I could go on and on about but I'll spare you. Besides, other fans with much more time on their hands have already written at great length about them in other places, so I'll leave you to search for them if you're really interested.
Back to The Boone Identity.
It was a very well written episode, I thought: As I mentioned earlier in this post, it gives us a better look at TV-Harry's world: Dealing with the police, handling clients who might or might not be this side of crazy, running down leads in the private eye tradition, and trying to find solutions that don't involve doing any serious harm to his friends. One thing that a lot of fen complained about was Harry not using magic - he does in this episode, in spades. We also get to see more of his working relationship with Murphy, and get a better idea of what kind of person she is. We even get to see something of his famous technology curse.
That's another thing that people don't get, or at least get subconsciously: If you use The Big Schtick too often, it ceases to be interesting and the show gets boring. Shows like MacGyver and The A-Team had their schticks, but they were different in every episode, and so never really got boring.
At any rate, I think the show's doing very well, and I'd like to see the Sci-Fi Channel keep it running and give it a fair shake. Going to the forums is probably the worst way of getting in touch with the channel, so if any of you are also fans of the show, you'll probably want to e-mail feedback (at) scifi (dot) com to tell them.
Okay. On to other topics.
Holy crow: They're selling the Ecto-1!
Attention Network users:
Due to the actions of a certain greyface using the IP address 18.104.22.168 (rbo-rijnmond.nl), I've turned off external logins for the forseeable future. Whoever this guy is, he's developed a utility that attempts to bruteforce logins via SSH by starting with the username 'a' and working its way sequentially through possible usernames (when I cut him off, he was up to 'gte'). Now, it doesn't appear that he's actually trying passwords, just usernames, but still, a couple of dozen attempts per second really chew up bandwidth. Even after updating the firewall rules to deny all access, it still fills up the pipe.
He might be the fall guy, but Scooter Libby's not going down without a fight as testimony on the stand from witnesses lays out the damage and spin control operations the White House activated when allegations of WMDs in Iraq were proven false. Catherine Martin took the stand yesterday, and started laying out who was holding which puppet strings and who tugged on them when. It's amazing what one can do to make everone forget about being made to look like fools on national television..
Remember the REAL ID Act of 2005, which mandates that every US citizen must be issued a national ID card that fits certain federal standards, is electronically readable, and most importantly will be necessary if you ever want to get a job, open a bank account, or fly. They are also supposed to be damn near impossible to copy or counterfit, though the usual rules of sitting at the console when attacking apply. Well, the state of Maine flat out rejected it and asked Congress to repeal the REAL ID Act, and Georgia, Massachusetts, Montana, and Washington state are also refusing it, at least to some degree.
Why don't they just give up on Dibold's e-voting machines? They're already been proven insecure and unauditable beyond the shadow of a doubt. They've already compromised the hardware and software in an undetectible manner. The keys to the locks can be freely purchased online... or fabricated by hand because Diebold put an image of the master key on their website. Because the locks used on the Diebold electronic voting machines are the same ones used on many filing cabinets (the locks of which can be purchased in many hardware and office supply stores), it wasn't hard for Kinard of the 'sploitcast to get a couple of locks and key blanks and cut his own master keys using the image from Diebold's online catalogue for reference.
And guess what? Two of this three keys work to unlock the cover of the datacard compartment. Mounting an election rigging attack is as simple as opening the compartment, swapping cards for a few seconds, and locking it back up. The nature of the firmware is such that if it even notices the tampering, it is trivial to erase all traces of same from the system logs. To cover their asses they changed the catalog entries to remove the image (which is still all over the Net) and altered the text to read that a smartcard is used to unlock the machines (it isn't, or at least it isn't for the several hundred thousand e-voting machines now in the field).
These guys don't know when they're beaten.
Have you ever read an end-user license agreement before? I mean really sat down and read one, and not just scrolled through it just to unlock the little 'I agree' button at the bottom of the window so that you could install software that, legally you didn't really buy but actually bought permission to use for a while on your computer. There's some pretty scary stuff in EULAs these days, such as consent to have spyware installed on said box and dropping certain customer protection rights written into law, on the off chance that the software goes haywire and wrecks something. ReasonableAgreement.org was set up as a reaction to this. They wrote up their own EULA, or anti-EULA I should say. It is, they admit, just as enforcable as any clickwrap or clickthrough EULA is (there have been so many court cases which had so many different judgements, no one is really sure anymore if EULAs are even legally valid; it all boils down to how much money you have), but at least it's written in such a way that you don't have to submit a blood sample just to say 'hi' to someone.
If you want, you can even buy stickers to put on paperwork you have to hand back, or on your laptop to cover yourself on the off chance that a discussion you have in public offends someone.
This is cute: An external hard drive shaped like a Lego brick.
Happy birthday, Trap Vector.
Heads-up for the Maryland contingent: Author Christopher Penczak will be doing a couple of classes at Spark of Spirit (9937 Rhode Island Avenue; College Park, Maryland 20740; phone number 301-345-1486) on 13, 14, and 15 April, 2007.
In Tiajuana, Mexico, there is a shakedown and purge of the police department underway due to allegations of corruption. As a result, the police have been disarmed so that their weapons can be used in ballistics tests to see if any were used in a number of murders linked to drug cartels and re-issued slingshots and ball bearings as weapons. They're crude, and definitely underpowered when compared to a pistol, but anything small and hard moving very fast is going to put a hurt on you if and when t hits.
And the hits just keep on coming.. researchers at UCLA have developed a memory circuit that can store 20KB of data in a physical space the size of a white blood cell. Compared to current random-access memory circuits of 2007, this new circuit has a data density of 100 gigabits per square centimeter, which is a new world record, if nothing else. That single memory cell can store the complete text of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America and still have some room left over. Unfortunately, this is just a lab toy, and isn't anywhere near production - so much for trading in my USB key for artificial fingernails that can back up my home directory.
Last night was one of the more fun and interesting nights I've had in a while. After Lyssa and I got home last night we took turns playing Dance Dance Revolution Supernova, which I'd gotten for her for Yule last year (she played first while I ate dinner and got some lifestyle maintenance done, then she took a shower while I played a few rounds), and then we picked up and got into the TARDIS to pick up Orthaevelve, who was celebrating signing her first publishing contract with Immanion Press. We first hit the local library to return Lyssa's library books and figure out what went wonky with my library card (and promptly got lost for a time in our respective sections of choice), then Whole Paycheque so that Lyssa could get dinner, and headed for home to hang out and goof off. Orthaevelve and I got caught up talking about applied natural (and not so) philosophy for most of the night, finally winding up around 2330 EST/EDT. We started comparing how to go about certain things, and then started bouncing ideas off of one another...
You know how it goes. One things leads to another, and then the next thing you know we've figured out how to replicate the Tunguska event and provoke a technological singularity at the same time.
Now I really want to finish my book. She's the third of my friends that have published now.
I drove her home shortly therafter and then headed back to collapse into bed because I was just this side of exhaustion. I've been wondering if my body hasn't been getting sick lately, given a couple of cues I've been picking up.
More from the front lines of the DVD content protection war - slyck.com has posted an interview with Muslix64, who cracked the copy protection of both HD DVD and Blu-Ray within a couple of weeks of work as an act of 'fair use enforcement'. When you consider the fact that you can't watch either of these kinds of DVD on anything but an HDCP High-Definition monitor (which very few people have), you have to wonder if you really have fair use of the DVDs you purchase anyway... the interview also goes on to explain how AACS works, and that by sussing the individual volume key out of the DVD disk's contents, you can use it to decrypt the rest of the encrypted content on the disk, and the rest is history...
Greylisting is a technique for slowing down the oncoming torrent of spam on the Net today by breaking spamware that isn't compliant with the SMTP RFCs. It consists of a simple alteration to your DNS zonefiles that places an IP address that doesn't have anything listening on port 25/TCP in the position of your primary MX, and the addresses of your real MX's in positions of lower priority in you DNS zone. Spamware that isn't compliant looks at your DNS records for the IP address of the primary MX, tries to contact it, fails, and gives up, or at least that's the theory behind it. I plan on trying it soon on the Network to se if it's worth anything; if it works it'll buy us some more time before we have to build a new mail server.
The hacker spirit perseveres in all things, especially when it comes to squeezing every last compute cycle out of one's hardware. OC Team Italy set a new world record recently by overclocking a Pentium-4 processor core to 8.0GHz. The CPU they used in their grand experiment is a model 631, and runs natively at 3.0GHz. Their secret sauce to keep the unit from going Chernobyl?
On one hand, this horrifies the sysadmin in me. On the other.. rock the hell on. A round of beer's on me if I ever meet you guys face to face.
Saloncon 2007 has been announced! It'll be held the weekend of 22 September, 2007.. and they managed to get Voltaire as a performer!
As more evidence in the Valerie Plame incident comes to light, it's looking more and more like Scooter Libby was set up to cover the ass of Karl Rove. No real surprise, there, given who was giving him orders.
E. Howard Hunt, the legendary spook who planned the Watergate burglary that took down Richard Nixon in the 1970's, founder of the Operation of Strategic Services (which later became the CIA), and masterminded the execution of Che Guevara in 1967 died of complications of pneumonia yesterday at the age of 88. Hunt was instrumental in planning and executing operations against the Soviets, Cuba, and Guatamala during his career of almost threed decades, and gods only know what else he was involved in that hasn't been declassified yet. After he got out of prison for his role in the Watergate break-in he took to writing spy thrillers full time, and published about eighty of them up until he retired completely.
Intel has released an implementation of the draft 802.11n wireless networking protocol for laptops and other portable devices. 802.11n has five times the maximum data throughput of 802.11g, topping out at 270 megabits per second. On top of that, their 802.11n chipset uses less power than the other wi-fi implementations out there, which can give laptops an extra hour of runtime on battery, which is a huge selling point.
First HD DVDs were cracked; now Muslix64 has gone for an encore and cracked the protection on Blu-Ray DVD's so that they can be ripped in unencrypted form. It seems that he didn't even need a Blu-Ray player to figure out how to do it, he found an attack that sidesteps the AACS (Advanced Access Content System, which does anything but let you access content) by finding the key used to encrypt the media data hidden inside the cyphertext. To prove that he was successful, he posted a ripped copy of Lord of War to the Net, which was subsequently taken down because everyone and their backup started downloading it. The utility he wrote is just 18kb in size, and has probably hit the filesharing networks by now. Remember to watch out for trojan horses, everyone.
Dell Computers is now selling N-series computers without operating systems, advertised specifically for Linux. It's anyone's guess how long it'll take Microsoft to strongarm them into stopping again.
Prosthetic retinas are leaving the experimental stage and now are in live animal testing to shake the bugs out. A number of housecats with a condition similiar to retinitis pigmentosa, which causes blindness by killing the rod and cone cells that make up the retinas have been implanted with silicon chips 2mm on a side that replicate some of the functions of organic retinas. The chips are covered with microscopic photodiodes that register light levels, produce miniscule electrical impulses, and feed directly into the optic nerve. Similiar implants have been used in a small number of humans with this disorder, with varying degrees of success. The eyesight of some patients has improved markedly, while others have not seen much improvement in their vision. One of the goals of the animal experimetation series is to get the implantation procedure down; another is to refine the designs so that the resolution of the image transmitted to the visual cortex is closer to that of normal, unassisted vision.
Here's an interesting website that I found during a random search: Have you ever wondered how far the information you've generated has travelled in the universe? Now you can find out - this website will calculate all of the known starts within your light cone, which ones have been reached, and which ones that information has yet to reach, and displays it in the form of an RSS feed that you can import into a reader or aggregator. Nifty.
This should be enough to give anyone pause: Alberto Gonzalez, the Attorney General of the United States of America argued before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Constitituion does not grant habeas corpus rights, but only says that they can be suspended. Let's think about this a little: Saying that a right can be suspended implicitly states that there is a right that can be suspended to begin with. Senator Arlen Specter, who headed up the committe, nearly went into a fitof apoplexy when he heard this after asking if Gonzalez's logic took a wrong turn at Albequerqe: "The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn't say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended except in cases of rebellion or invasion."
This calls into question the rest of the rights granted to US citizens by the Constitution, like freedom of speech, freedom to gather peacefully, and freedom to request a redress of greivances from the government (not that that has ever happened in the past six years or anything like that). This goes against every legally upheld interpretation of the Constitution of the United States since the founding of this country.
This Saturday past, the Pentagon took a major leap sideways when it had to distance itself from one of its senior officials, one Charles "Cully" Stimson. Stimson went on the record during a radio interview as saying that US companies should boycott legal firms that employ lawyers who represent Guantanamo Bay detainees that are US citizens. He then went on to recite a list of a dozen legal firms that should be boycotted. When last I checked, if you were a US citizen you had the right to legal representation under the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Lieutenant Colonel Brian Maka, spokesman for the Pentagon, then went on the record by stating that Stimson spoke for himself only, and his views do not reflect those of the Bush regeime. One Neal Sonnett, the president of the American Judicature Society (a public nonpartisan society of judges and practitioners of law) called this an act of intimidation.
It wasn't an Earth-shattering kaboom, but it was China using a ballistic missile to take out one of its old satelites in orbit around the planet. The decommissioned weather satellite was orbiting at an altitude of 535 miles above the Earth, and thus made a perfect test target. This was, it is said the first successful knockout of an orbitting satellite in over twenty years. The rest of the world sat up and took notice when the Chinese government confirmed their intelligence reports because satellite constellations are critical to the infrastructure of the twenty-first century, and are involved in everything from GPS-assisted navigation to telecommunications. I don't think that I need to explain why this successful exercise is getting a lot of sideways glances, what with all the geopolitical climate these days.
There's been another disturbing development pertaining to the Forth Amendment recently, in that laptop computers may be seized for inspection without a warrant. This isn't the first time this has been in the news, but now a couple of precedents have been set in court, which is doubly worrisome; this was from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (United States v. Ziegler), and upholds statements in employment contracts that state that you have no privacy whatsoever if you're at work and using their equipment, and most of the time you don't have any privacy if you're using your own equipment, either. The thing about precedents is that they tend to be applied to everything under the sun, so long as someone can make a decent argument for it.
Note to self: Encrypting filesystems are good.
George W. Bush's approval rating across the country is at an all-time low of 28% of the population. On top of all of that, Dick Cheney is in deep doo-doo right now because of the Valerie Plame scandal.
It snowed pretty much all night last night. I made the mistake of going out again for some last minute groceries, a jaunt down the block that wound up taking a solid hour, most of which was occupied by my trying to nagivate the TARDIS safely over frozen roads with no traction whatsover, and horrible visibility due to the huge snowflakes and Virginia drivers who think that high beams are perfectly acceptible to use in an environment filled with highly reflective particles.
I got home and stayed home.
Last night Lyssa and I watched the first half of the second season of Slayers, and made it through two out of four DVDs before our brains were sufficiently fried by the series (in particular, some of the character-silliness) that we had to take a break from it. Thankfully, at 2100 last night was the premiere of The Dresden Files television series on Sci-Fi, an event that we've been waiting for since it was announced last summer.
If you aren't familiar with The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, they are a series of modern fantasy stories that even I like. They are detective stories told in the first person (rather like Raymond Chandler stories) set in present day Chicago by one Harry Dresden, a modern-day wizard. Yes, a wizard - the fireball throwing, technology wrecking, wind summoning wizard, complete with Bob, an air spirit living inside of a skull in his workroom, who happens to have an ad in the Yellow Pages. The stories take a while to get going, but they start slow to give you a chance to get used to how the story is told, and to get a handle on recent events in the story. The character of Harry is delightfully sarcastic, and has some excellent lines in the novels. The style the stories are told in takes some getting used to, but it's worth it to read at least one of the novels to see if you like them or not. By and large, they're all stand-alone stories, with the backstory from earlier filled in as necessary in case you don't know or don't remember.
Anyway, Sci-Fi bought the rights to turn The Dresden Files into a series last year, and it's just started airing at 2100 EST/EDT on Sunday nights. They didn't show the intended pilot episode, an adaptation of Storm Front, but instead showed what was supposed to be the fifth episode of the season. I'm not sure that I'm entirely okay with that, but it gave a good introduction to Harry's world: Cops who call him for help (on the clock, no less) for assistance, getting his jeep ticketed and booted, waking up late, and running headlong into the supernatural encroaching upon the life of a fourteen year old boy with an uncertain past.
The special effects weren't really over the top, which I very much liked. The episode was driven by the plot more than the FX, and there was a decent amount of character development, vis a vis, Harry and Bob, who is not an air spirit inside a skull (in the novels) but the ghost of a dead wizard with a shady past, by all accounts. Paul Blackthorne, at first scratch, has the character of Harry down quite well, and looks quite a bit like what I pictured him to look like in the novels. Terrence Mann makes an excellent Bob, even if he was only sarcastic and not a pervert (BS&P has its limits, in all things). His voice reminds me very much of what I always thought Bob sounded like (and what James Marsters portreyed him as in the audiobooks). There were also a couple of flashbacks that filled the viewers in on his backstory, which to date have had only a few minor changes. What rubbed me the wrong way was how a majo plot point at the beginning of the episode very obviously set up the finale; I prefer something a bit more hidden, something that I forgot about because it was so subtle. Still, it was a decently written, well acted episode. It had a cohesive storyline, good pacing, and didn't bean the viewer over the head with references that he or she wouldn't get.
I will reserve judgement on the series as a whole until I've seen one or two more episodes. You can't always tell what a show will be like from the pilot. I will also reserve judgement because Jim Butcher, the author of the novels, was on set for the filming of a few episodes, and had a hand in the creative process. Judging by his posts on the forums, he's very excited about it, and very pleased with the adaptation.
My overall rating: Three and a half blasting rods out of five.
We lost another fish sometime today. Sidhe, the betta that used to live in the library, had taken ill late last week, swimming in an irregular manner (or should I say corkscrewing through the water crazily) and ignoring his food. This happened a couple of months ago with Ghost, who used to live in a bowl on my workbench in the office. This weekend he took to floating upright in the water, as if standing straight up on the tip of his tail. He still wasn't eating by the time I left for work this morning.
When Lyssa and I got home tonight from the allergist's office, Sidhe was floating dead on the bottom of his bowl, gills flared, quite dead. We think that it was old age and a blockage of some kind causing swim bladder disease, a common killer of bettas.
Lyssa thinks that it is because we can't have more than three bettas at a time in the apartment. Bettas are bred for a) beauty and b) viciousness. We know for certain that the betta Eris hates all carbon based lifeforms with a passion; he even went after Jean's dog, Chandler, when he tried to drink out of his bowl. The ambient levels of piscine hatred are such that if there are more than three bettas in the apartment at any time, the weakest will wither and die.
I'm starting to think that she's right.
New and interesting developments in the field of neuroprosthetics! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are culturing living data cables by stretching nerves! Because nerves do not mix well with nonorganic structures unless they are coated with organic compounds and practically grown there, the most ideal way of growing nerves is to take a section of viable nerve tissue, culture it in a growth medium, and slowly stretch the section of nerve. The idea is that the neurons are stretched away from one another, so the neuronal bodies and axons will lengthen to fill the space. Interestingly, nerves will stretch at the rate of one centimetre per day under ideal conditions; the longest cables so grown are 10cm in length. Extension nerves grown using this technique were used for conveying relatively simple impulses back in 2001 (!), and test-type extension nerves are already seeing medical use in repairing the peripheral nervous systems of human patients.
I said the same thing you probably just did: "How the hell did I not know about this??"
However, bridging damaged nerves is one thing, but using the nerve cables to connect electronics to the nervous system is another thing entirely, and this hasn't yet been done with these cables. Animal tests are scheduled to begin soon.
I don't think that they'll have much trouble getting the artificial signals to the brains of test subjects: Professor Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading, England did just that years ago in his famous experiment in which he grafted a basic plug into his peripheral nervous system and used it to convey data from ultrasonic sensors and a computer into and out of his nervous system.
It seems that winter has finally come to Washington, DC. Temperatures have been bouncing around between the low twenties Farenheit and the high thirties, finally coming to a bone-chilling low of 30 degrees Farenheit late last night. I finally got home about twenty minutes ago, after going out to run a couple of errands, and had a hell of a time getting home because of the snow now covering the ground and the road. More's the point, it's freezing on the roads; I discovered this the hard way when I almost spun out on the highway on my way home. Thankfully, the TARDIS' antilock brakes kicked in when they were supposed to, and saved my bacon.
Now that I'm back home and safe and sound, it's really quite pretty. The roads are accumulating snow; so much so that people are actually driving slowly on the Beltway (I can see part of it from my vantage point at home; the cars appear to be going about thirty miles per hour). The roads are also freezing, which caused my problems earlier today.
Last night Jarin and Raven came over to hang out for a quiet evening at home watching the last two DVDs of Slayers, preceeded by a trip to Uno's for a warm dinner. We sat around for a while discussing our cats, of all things, and waiting for dinner to arrive becuase it was a busy Saturday night.
Slayers is a cute series: If you've ever played D&D it very much has the feel of a silly, slightly overpowered campaign. There are lots of in-jokes that gamers will get, and it's generally a silly series. It's brain-candy anime - brain candy with collateral damage equivelent to the Hiroshima blast.
A lot of talking was done by all... I got quite a bit of coding time in on a project that I've been working on, and I think will be ready to go live in a week or two. Jarin was nice enough to go through the four boxes of books that Lyssa and I cleaned out of our libraries and took an entire book home himself, which left me many less to haul to the thift store to donate this afternoon. All in all, I drove about four boxes of books, two boxes of cookware, a knife set, a bag of clothes, and my old printer to the thrift store to donate, and clear the apartment out somewhat in the process.
This weekend has been, by and large, a lazy one. I've been doing a lot of coding, Lyssa's been doing a lot of knitting (she was half-done with her latest scarf by midnight last night), and we've been perfecting the fine art of sitting on our asses doing nothing. We had long weeks at work, and it's time for some R&R.
Physicists at the University of Rochester have made a breakthrough in data storage technology, namely, they've been able to store an entire image within a single photon using holographic techniques. An image of the UofR logo was cut into a stencil and a beam of laser light was passed through a beam splitter (classic holographic imaging technique); then a single photon from that beam was passed through the cut out portion of the stencil. Due to the nature of quantum mechanics, that photon passed through every region of the cut away part of the stencil (or at least, that's how the math behind wave/particle duality works). This single packet of energy then passed through a cell of warm cesium vapour, which slowed the photon down by a significant fraction of the speed of light and then a lens, after which it was recombined with the other part of the beam split off earlier (another classic holographic technique) and then recorded by a camera. If you look at the before and after images generated by this storage system, there are differences between the 'before' and 'after' images but you can still make out that 'UR' really does say 'UR'.
The first pressing of the DVD boxed set of Doctor Who, season 28/2 has a strange glitch in it: Footage from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre It seems that the master tapes were used for the movie as well as New Earth, so partway through the episode you'll get to see someone having their legs cut off. So far, this has only been seen on copies rented from Netflix; it isn't clear if anyone of the boxed sets up for sale right now have the bug.
The handlers over at the Internet Storm Centre have been noticing a disturbing trend lately, namely, seeing the DNP protocol appearing on the open Net. You probably don't care about this because you've never heard of it before, but the protocol called DNP is used by process automation systems (SCADA) that control things like power generators and substations, pipelines, and other systems that have points of control scattered far and wide, systems in which a problem in one place can cascade into major problems everywhere downstream of the first problem. Now, maybe it's just me, but I find it worrisome that comm protocols for systems that most people would consider very important and generally a Bad Idea(tm) to put on the open Net where anyone could find and mess with them are showing up on the public, unclassified, unprotected Internet.
Now, granted, there are a couple of open source SCADA systems out there, but they aren't very common at all. It's entirely possible that someone is either using the DNP protocol for something non-traditional, or that it just appears to be the DNP protocol but really isn't. Or, someone could be using one of those open-source implementations as part of a simple experiment over the Net and this is nothing to worry about.
I've looked at the packet captures in the ISC diary entry and done a bit of searching, and it appears that the attempts on port 20000/TCP were trying to get hold of the file /etc/psa/psa.conf, which seems to be a config file for a software package called Plesk, which is control panel software for webhosting companies to control the nodes in their server farms. This is the sort of distributed application that a protocol like DNP would be useful for: Controlling lots of nodes that are geographically distributed or so numerous that they would be cumbersome at best to manage. It's possible that this just appears to be DNP, though, and that Someone Out There has found a 0-day bug in Plesk and is actively scanning for instances to exploit.
It seems that LA police completely missed something shady happening that was not only reported by the public but recorded by a securicam: J. Random Stranger poured a bottle of mercury out on a subway platform, and the hazmat crew arrived eight hours later to clean up the spill. The Joint Terrorism Task Force says that this wasn't even a criminal act, which it probably wasn't but for future reference it actually is because mercury is toxic, and in fact there are special procedures that must be followed to clean it up. However, the guy who spilled the mercury hunted for a way to call for help after he did so, which leads me to believe that it was, in fact, an accident. Generally, if you're up to something shady like that you'd plan it better, and place the call from somewhere else.
With regard to the bill yesterday that either could or could not have forced webloggers to register as lobbyists inside the beltway, the bill didn't pass.
George W. Bush has deceed that all warrantless wiretaps now have to go through an independent court for review before they can be enacted. Congress seems to be of two minds about this: While they are no doubt relieved that there is now a control on this power, they also hastened to add that Bush still has the authority to order wirtaps regardless. It is also not yet known if the order covers all such surveillance actions or arbitrary ones to be named later. The legal body that will review all such orders is the FISC, the Foreign Intelligence Service Court, which was formed through FISA back in 1978.
A message from Emmanuel Goldstein of 2600 Magazine yesterday afternoon brings mixed news: Due to the scheduled demolition of the Hotel Pensylvania, the HOPE Conference is in jeopardy. The Hotel Penn, love it or hate it, was really the only hotel in New York City that 2600 could afford to hold HOPE in; it was also one of the few hotels that most of the attendees could afford to stay in... New York City isn't a cheap place, let's be honest here. They are probably looking at moving it to a different city, but it's too soon to tell, or even guess where that could be. To help get things straightened out, they've set up a web forum so that everyone can get together and hash things out.
I really hope that the HOPE conferences keep going. HOPE is one of the few comp.sec conferences on the east coast that the folks at home in the basement can afford to go to; most of them require corporate sponsorship because they run several thousand dollars American per day, which is well out of the reach of most hobbyists. Also, HOPE is always a lot of fun, and it's a good place to meet people and maybe pick up a few stories to tell at one's favourite watering hole.
A weapons test at the Naval Surface Warface Centre made the news ysterday because a heretofore novel device was successfully tested: A railgun, more technically referred to as a Gauss-effect linear accelerator. Railguns are, conceptually, pretty simple devices: A ferrous projective rests inside a set of conductive metal rails, through which an electric current passes. When a sufficiently large pulse of electricity passes through the rails, the projectile goes out of the business end of the device at high velocity. Whatever is hit by the projectile either ceases to exist or has a very, very large hole through it due to the immense kinetic energy imparted by the projectile. The prototype isn't very powerful, as linear accelerators go - just eight megajoules of force were imparted to the round fired, but when you consider the fact that most Navy gunships' shells leave the muzzle with a net force of nine megajoules, that's pretty good for a prototype. The best way to describe the impact of a railgun is by comparing it to hitting something with a Ford Taurus moving at 380 miles per hour.. not something you'd shake off with a couple of layers of ballistic plate.
At this time, there is a bill before Congress that will change how grassroots lobbyists are treated, namely, requiring them to register on a quarterly basis as lobbyists inside the beltway. This press release has been picked up all over the Net - just about every cause you can think of that would ask people to write in to push for things to go one way or another has noticed this bill. So many have that I had a hell of a time finding the actual text of the bill in question at the Library of Congress.
Well, here's the gotcha: It'll go in 2 USC 1602, section 3, paragraph 18:
"`(B) PAID ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE THE GENERAL PUBLIC OR SEGMENTS THEREOF- The term `paid attempt to influence the general public or segments thereof' doesnot include an attempt to influence directed at less than 500 members of the general public."
Which means that any forum that reaches more than 500 people at any time is considered fair game, so long as the forum is paid by a client to speak out on some matter, or spends $25kus or more in a quarter on this effort.
The people crowing about this, now that I have a chance to think about it, are organisations that collect donations to try to bend ears in Congress. Joe and Jane average (like myself, with a website and a text editor) don't get paid to speak their minds, don't take clients, and do it on their own, so they don't seem to fall into this category.
The text of the bill is pretty dense, and very confusing. It's easy to read it either way, especially if you're multitasking and trying to do other stuff at the same time.
This Wired article reads like Scott Sigler decided to write an Unknown Armies module.
A couple of days ago I wrote about a rogue ActiveX control found on some newer Acer laptops that allowed arbitrary commands to be executed in response to a user visiting a malicious webpage. The SANS Institute has written an update to this vulnerability, with links to both a patch from Microsoft and a link to a US-CERT article.
The Reverend Magdalene was not, in fact, able to regain custody of her child on 8 January 2007 because the court put a last-minute halt on the change of custody order. The legal stay will remain in place until May of 2007, it appears.
On the other side of the pond, a group of UK police officers were dry-gulched by a group of thugs armed with improvised weapons while answering a breaking and entering call.. and were saved by an unknown person carrying a katana. No, seriously. The guy with the sword took down one criminal with a (technically) nonlethal strike to the arm; two others fled and are still at large; a third was arrested later. The guy with the sword is still on the loose.
There is no word yet if he was accompanied by a teenage girl on a skateboard.
Hee hee hee hee!
I don't really see how this is much of a surprise: The Pentagon and CIA have been pulling the credit records of US citizens without telling them.. Frankly, this is SOP these days. Anyone with $30us to spend can buy the credit history of anyone in this country without even a second glance. It's mostly legal to do so because information brokering companies are in the business of selling information, with the understanding (usuall enforced by a click-through agreement) that the information will not be abused. It has been a reasonably common practice for at least the past ten years for employers to pull the credit histories of prospective employees. Background checking companies and skiptracers have been doing this for nearly 30 years now. Even private citizens do this from time to time to check up on not only themselves, but sometimes their significant others. This is commodity information, and doesn't really fall under FISA. Hell, for all we know these days, it might fall under the heading of OSINT because credit histories can be gotten so readily for so little.
The sixth volume of the information security webzine Uninformed is now out.
I've been using my Grandtec flexible silicon rubber keyboard for about two days now, and I'm not entirely sure that I like it. Because it's flexible, one would expect a lack of tactice and audible feedback from the unit, but one would not expect the sheer difficulty of getting characters to register when touch-typing normally. The layout of the keyboard is a little weird (there are four shift keys on the fifth row, in the first, second, thirteenth, and fifteenth positions) but there are no 'real' HOME, END, PAGE UP, or PAGE DOWN keys (those are implemented using a Fn+key combination, which is a real bitch for coding). Also, there are three distinct SPACE keys on the sixth row (one on either side of the obligatory spacebar), which, if you are used to typing on smaller keyboards, are really going to cause you problems because that's where one expects the ALT keys to be. Also, most every key on this keyboard is the same size, which again hampers touch-typers because the slightly different keysizes are an important tactile cue used to determine where your fingers are on the keyboard.
Oh, also, did i mention the two ENTER keys, one full-sized oddly-shaped one, and a much smaller one on the fourth row, right where the apostrophe key usually is on a PC keyboard...
Also, the general mushiness of the keys is making my wrists act up; I've been feeling a goodly amount of RST-related pain in my left wrist, and at this rate the right is sure to follow. Not good.
I think I'm going to take this back to get a refund tonight. If they have something like a Happy Hacker keyboard that I can tote around with me, I'm going to go with that over a more portable yet worse-for-me silicone rubber keyboard.
The Sci-Fi channel is turning Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age into a six-hour miniseries. Moreover, Stephenson himself is writing the adaptation himself, so hopefully it'll survive the transition of media.
The first pirated HD movie has hit the Net - and it's a copy of Serenity. It was ripped and encoded into an .evo file, but because it's a high-def media complex it's huge, weighing in at nearly twenty (20) gigabytes in size. A programmer calling him- or herself Muslix64 has released a utility called BackupHDDVD that will do the deed of ripping the media, but there's a catch: The user of BackupHDDVD has to hunt through the memory of the computer the HD DVD is playing on to find the runtime key. If you read this thread at the doom9 forums, though, you will find directions for doing this. In a nutshell, you need to start playing the DVD in WinDVD, and then load up a hex editor to search through the system's memory for the fourth occurrance of the string 'VPLST000.XPL'. At the offset +0x0181 you will find the decrypted TK table, and at offset +0x1571 you will find the volume's unique key. Feed these values into BackupHDDVD and it'll do the rest. Of course, there will be some variation here, but if you read the rest of the posts you'll get a pretty good idea of what exactly you should be looking for.
Troy Hurtubise, who invented the anti-grizzly bear suit, is as it again. This time he's developed a suit of combat armour for military use that (somehow, unsurprisingly) looks like it came out of a video game. It's made out of ceramic composite and weighs about 40 pounds, which isn't too bad for full body ballistic armour. It's stood up to live fire tests, and Hurtubise is more than willing, he says, to wear the armour while being fired upon. He's even put it through some of the paces that the military would, like driving for four hours in the armour.
It is now officially the middle of January - so why is it 65 degrees Farenheit and why are there people walking around in shorts and t-shirts? No, seriously, what gives? I'm sitting here in khakis and a polo shirt in downtown DC (wishing that I was working from home because it is, apparently, a holiday and as such 90% of the city has the day off) in a building that's so empty that most of the hallway and office lights weren't even turned on to conserve power. It's a little creepy, actually.
Friday night I wound up staying up late to finish a veritable cornucopia of laundry in preparation for the gather on Saturday, and consequently wound up catching up on all of my sleep in one go, and got up around 1100 EST/EDT on Saturday morning. Much to my chagrin, Lyssa had been cleaning since 0900 and had scarcely stopped for a break. Once I was operational, I set about picking up around the apartment as fast as I could: The living room didn't take much work, or at least I didn't think that it did. We had to run a couple of errands to pick up stuff for dinner and then head back to finish cleaning and start cooking. Seeing as how the first thing we did was take the Yule tree down we have a lot more space to work with in the living room.
As it turns out, we had a couple of cancellations, so we had a much smaller crowd than expected. The Lost Boys are on the shelf with a bug picked up at work last week; Hummingwolf wasn't feeling up to travelling on Saturday; Jarin and Orthaeveleve also had other plans, which left Mika and Hasufin, Butterfly and Mark, and later on Kash arrived to complete the set. We sat around for a while catching up and relaxing (Lyssa and I had not really had a chance to rest all day) so this was a welcome break from running around). After we'd all had a chance to partake of the yummy gumbo that Lyssa had cooked up for everyone, we put the last couple episodes of Hellsing into the DVD player and sat back to watch the remainder of the series.
Update: They don't turn on the environment control systems at work on federal holidays, so I said "screw it" and went home to work remotely. I don't fancy a case of heatstroke in a high security building.
We nibbled off and on all evening as we watched television, and later on switched over to Adult Swim to watch Bleach. I spent most of the evening multitasking as I worked on a project that I'm almost ready to release. We wound up parting ways around 0200 EST/EDT: Most everyone went home, Kash sacked out in the living room, and I crashed for the evening not long after that.
The next day I went out a bit to pick up a few things for work, namely a portable, flexible USB keyboard and a mouse with a retractable cable to use with my laptop, in an attempt to save my wrists. I also did some driving around to stretch my legs and clear my head a little because I'd been coding for much of the night in some capacity or another. I finally had a chance to visit the Unique Thrift Store in northern Virginia, which is one of the nicer thrift shops that I've visited in recent years. Lyssa and I will be paying them a visit shortly to drop off a couple of crates of stuff that we are getting rid of to free up more space in the apartment.. we've gone on something of an inventory purge recently, and this is the best way, I think, to get rid of stuff.
So far, we've thrown out about two storage boxes' worth of stuff we haven't looked at since undergrad and have three boxes of books to donate. I'm still inthe process of going through my shelves, so this number will no doubt climb shortly.
Later in the afternoon we got it in our heads to go out for Greek for dinner, but because our usual haunt was closed (it was Sunday), we decided to try a new restaurant called Skorpios' Grille (703-398-7777; 421 Maple Avenue East; Vienna, VA 22180)... and wound up walking out because the food there, in a word, sucks. The spanakopita was frozen and not fully cooked through; the hummus had no flavour whatsoever, and was drowned in olive oil to make up for that; the gyros were oily and just didn't sit well in our stomachs. The guy behind the counter refused to refund our money when we complained and he even charged us for water. When I paid for it in cash he didn't put it into the till to balance things but threw it into the tipjar, which strikes me as shady.
That place is pants - five flareguns. Avoid at all costs.
We wound up having dinner at the Tyson's Corner food court, and were quite surprised to find that the kebabs we'd gotten were at the far end of the bell curve as mall food goes - very tasty, well-priced for what we got (which was a bit more than regular mall food would ordinarily cost), and filling.
We'd gone to Tyson's Corner to take in a movie, vis a vis Children of Men, which is now showing in theatres. It's a hell of a movie, make no mistake. Set in a world in which no children have been born for a generation, despair has set in and the planet, in short, has gone to hell out of despair and longing. It's an incredibly grim movie - it isn't from the States originally, or at least it didn't seem that way to me because the cinematography didn't feel like it was from Hollywood. The music was understated and from an older time - late sixties, early seventies, with a lot of anti-war anthems, and it was barely noticable behind what you could see on screen. It was also a very violent movie - gunshots were gunshots, and you didn't have the luxury of knowing what happened because it was offscreen because they showed it to you, full screen, in brutal technicolor, without any of the auditory cues (like over-amplified gunshots or screaming industrial music) that American movies used to both highlight the violence as well as dull its impact through distraction.
I had a hell of a time dealing with that movie. It hit hard on many levels, most of all the violence. While it was a well-written movie, with a style of cinematography that I find myself liking in its lack of ornamentaiton, it is also amazingly depressing.
If you like movies that make the future world of The Terminator or Neuromancer look cheerful, you're probably going to like Children of Men. If you don't have a high tolerance for simulated violence, you'll probably want to give this movie a pass. If you like complex cinema, regardless of what's in it, chances are you'll enjoy this movie.
I've just closed an entire era of my history off to make room to grow. As I've written before, Lyssa and I have been in the process of picking stuff in the apartment to either throw out entirely or donate to the local thrift store to not only clear room for new stuff (cough) but also to clear room out, period. There are, at this time, approximately three boxes of books that will be hauled to the thrift store for donation sometime this week. I've also gone through and discarded six garbage bags of miscellaneous cruft that has accumulated in my collection over the past ten years; fifteen years, if you count all of the stuff from the last major purge that I couldn't bear to part with.
Much of said stuff I haven't looked at since I decided that it was too precious to throw in the trash.
Paperback pre- and young teens' books from grade school? Going to a good cause.
Fifteen three-ring binders of notes and handouts from undergrad, documentation from yesterdecade, and whitepapers that are now obsolete as the eight track? Headed back to the ecosystem by way of the garbage truck that will visit the apartment complex sometime this week.
Flyers from a couple of raves that I spun at, more parties that I didn't spin at, and skillions of other that I never even attended? Adios.
A couple of thousand miscellaneous stickynotes with cryptic one and two line notes in different languages? Bunking with Wash.
That's not what gets me, though. While picking through everything on my bookshelves and deciding what to keep and what to ditch, I found a handful of messages from my BBS days that brought tears to my eyes and shaking hands. Most of them wouldn't make most people sentimental but they mean worlds to me. Thank you notes for BBS parties (like Triumvirpalooza 95.5) that I attended. Atta-boy posts from when I graduated from high school. Pontification on the nature of cyberpunk, which at the time was so cutting edge that it had already gotten into a warm bath, slit its wrists, and bled out until it became but a dessicated skeleton of what it started out as. First, second, and third drafts of short stories, most of which are largely based upon the weird shit that tends to happen around me whenever I set foot outside and the rest of the universe decides to alpha test something on.. everyone else around me.
I came to a realisation tonight: I miss those people deeply. I love most of them, too, in the way that twins can only bond. There are the people I grew up with, the people who were with me when I got out of the hospital, when I graduated from school, when I got my first 'real' professional job, the people whose have lent me shoulders to cry upon (and occasionally, the reverse) when needed.
People tend to be around when you need them, or when they need you. This is not to say that people as a whole are fair-weather friends. Far from it. What I mean to say is that lives are apart, meet up and join together for a time, and at some point in the future part ways once again. We run into one another to connect for a variety of reasons and learn our lessons, have our fun, and otherwise do our respective things. But when we evolve into different people, as Time and the reconciliation with History force all living things to do, sometimes we go our separate ways.
Chances are, at least some of those folks will stumble across this post in their travels. If any of you guys happen to read this, drop me a line, okay? Even if it's only to say that you're still alive.
I'm going to nibble on more mochi and then go to bed, I think.
Good night, users of the Internet. I'll be dreaming about you.
Captain Midnight unmasked!
It's now 41 degrees Farenheit, and trying to rain. What gives?!
This morning, after arriving at the Metro station closest to my office and climbing the escalator (I need exercise, what can I say?) to the platform closest the street, I noticed something that you don't hear very often in downtown DC: Swimming through the air thanks to the odd accoustics of the Metro station above the sound of the traffic was music. Live music, replete with the little vibratos and imperfections that come with playing the same particular instrument for many years for hours on end. Pan pipes, a wooden flute, bass, and a drum machine.
After going topside again, I discovered that there was a trio of Latino guys standing on the street corner with a nice little portable rig set up on the sidewalk, carefully out of the way of the workaday crowd hurrying to their destinations. As I'd determined earlier, they had a small PA system, a drum machine, an electric bass, an electric guitar, what appeared to be a synth on autopilot, and an older gentleman playing a pair of panpipes and a flute in quick succession.
The song definitely wasn't an improv number; they had too much accompaniment running on their computers for that. They have, however, been playing for quite a few years, judging by how well they played. There are little things that you pick up after a few years of playing an instrument, like a little buzz on the C string of a guitar that means that it's frayed near one of the mounts, or the way that someone playing a wooden flute doesn't always pick out every note but sometimes slurs between them, which sometimes makes a song sound more interesting.
I stood there for a couple of minutes listening to them play, and dropped a couple of dollars into one of their guitar cases that was sitting open on the pavement. They reminded me a little bit of the band Cuzco, in that they had a very organic feel on top of all of the electronics (which did a good job of imitating accoustic instruments, actually), but took their melodies in entirely different directions from what one would expect.
Senator John Sununu of the state of New Hampsire is working on a bill that will prevent the FCC from requiring hardware manufacturers to support or not support certain features in their products in an attempt to prevent another Broadcast Flag power play on the part of US media companies, such as was attempted back in 2005 and narrowly averted.
Rachael Bevilacqua, also known as the Reverend Magdalene of the Church of the Subgenius has announced that she's regained custody of her son, following a messy divorce that used her performance at the last X-Day Rehearsal in New York as a weapon against her in court.
The MPAA has been caught uploading fake BitTorrents so that they can harvest the IP addresses of downloaders. It's been determined that all of the servers are physically located in Las Vegas, Nevada and southern California, with the following /24 networks, which you can then configure your client to ignore or drop into your local firewall:
For those of you who don't understand the mechanics of IP address blocks and netmasking, you can think of the parts that say '0/24' as '*', meaning all addresses under that block.
It is interesting to note that the MPAA is putting up dozens of trackers serving bogus content, all in the same class C netblock. Thus far, they aren't using one or two IP addresses from different blocks.
Remember Wikileaks? John Young of Cryptome has leaked some very interesting information about the project.
Lots of sound. Lots of fury. Lots of "we're going to change the world with this!" No development of code, though. Some of the threads of discussion remind me a lot of my .com days.. and embarass me just as much.
An excellent point is also brought up by John Young, in that it is common for operatives to leak forged documents as part of a diversionary campaign or as disinformation.
A couple of days ago I posted a link to an article about some changes made to US Postal Service regs to make it possible to search the mail without a warrant. The signing statement used raised one hell of a firestorm, not only among the people but in the US government as well in a "What did you DO, Ray?!" sort of way. As a result, a number of US Senators went before the senate and did what they could to set the record straight by explaining what, exactly, was supposed to happen (in short, nothing, it was intended to be a restatement of existing law), and the circumstances necessary for mail searches to take place (FISA requires that a search warrant be obtained unless there are lives at stake this bloody minute).
I think I'll have a glass of white wine with my crow.
The way the signing statement (what a way to sneak things into existing legislation..) was worded, it seemed to many, myself included, that mail could be searched at any time for no good reason (which is to the uninitiated what the warrantless secret searches and wiretaps appear to be). It seems that this particular statement was not bugchecked before being committed to the repository, which caused a similiar sort of panic.
I think I need some time alone... a Commodore-64 hacked into a laptop configuration.
It's just about the middle of January, and just now has winter come to DC. I don't want to say that it's cold or anything but we've gone from wearing t-shirts and shorts outside to frost on the windows and multiple layers of clothing because the temperature has been below freezing for much of the day. As if that weren't enough, the wind's been cold enough to feel like it's cutting right through you, and the pressure waves of cold air coming off of the Metro trains when they arrive at the station are enough to deaden one's sense of touch as soon as they strike (and strike they do).
The only thing missing on the east coast is snow. We get the occasional rain storm, which does predictable things to traffic down here, but nothing that's actually stuck on the ground yet.
If the weather thus far is any indication, how weird is 2007 going to get?
I guess I spoke too soon with that last entry - presenting squid jerky postcards. No, I'm not kidding, Surumail postcards consist of dried, flattened surume squid in a vacuum-packed envelope with a sticky label that you write the address (and presumably the message) upon. They sell for about $3us each, but don't seem to be available in the US just yet. The best advice I can give you is to keep checking your local import stores for more information.
I can't find stuff like this when I want to.
Another thought: I wonder if these can be legally mailed in the US these days.
"It is by caffeine alone that I set my mind in motion. It is by the beans of java that the thoughts acquire speed, hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning. It is by caffeine alone that I set my mind in motion."
I really should stop asking the universe if the world can get any more weird than it already is. Most of the time I don't mind so much, but I do grow tired of explosions all the time.. just the same, this caught my eye over morning coffee today: Canadian coins bugged with RFID tags were found in the possession of US government contractors who'd gone over the northern border. Details are a little sketchy because the DoD is involved, but it seems like the coins could be used to track the movements of the people who carry (and don't spend!) them. Nothing in the article suggests recording or audio transmission capabilty, but this is serious enough in itself, because governments tend to like the locations of their classified facilities a secret. Then, on the other hand, an unclassified report is going around that the story's bogus, because Ameicans can't be expected to know whether or not the currency of another country has been tampered with or not.
Frankly, I don't know what to think. It's possible to hide an RFID tag in a coin or in a bill, that much is known. It's not quite so easy to know if there actually is one or not because RFID readers don't exactly grow on trees, but from time to time they will set off other kinds of sensors by accident. It's also possible that they really didn't recognise the other coins, because they were given some kind of 'special issue' currency (whatever that means).
But then there's a report from another US agency that says that the coins were definitely tampered with...
I really hope that the sudden show of interest in net.neutrality isn't just jetwash. A bill has been introduced to Congress that would protect the neutrality of Internet backbones insofar as the origin and destination of information are concerned. Interestingly, it appears that the labor unions (of which there are a few for telecommunications engineers) are making their presence felt in this matter: It is said that by not restricting what the backbone lines of the Net are used for, there is more incentive for the telecom companies to invest and grow, which is, of course in the best interests of the unions.
The book Linux Kernel In A Nutshell by Greg Kroah-Hartman is now freely available under the Creative Commons license. The edition of the book in question is current up to v2.6.18 of the Linux kernel.
"A feast for fire and a feast for water; a feast for life and a greater feast for death!"
--Liber Al vel Legis, Chapter II, verse 41
Robert Anton Wilson, author, philosopher, ontological prankster and hacker, and all-around nifty guy went beyond when his body died at 0450 PST/PDT this morning surrounded by family and friends. The world is darker for his passing; it is also somewhat brigher because he is now free of his shell and loose in the rest of the universe, wreaking havoc and having a good laugh at the expense of the domesticated primates, reptiles, and post-$SPECIES that Don't Get The Joke from the subtle realms. Wilson was one of the authors of Principia Discordia and the Illuminatus Trilogy, as well as myriad other texts over the years. His writing and W/work showed us an entire universe of things to play with and think about, and set us loose like merry children to play in the fields of imagination.
A memorial service is tentativly planned for 7 February 2007.
Hail Eris, old son. All hail Discordia. We shall never forget you or your work.
...You know, after all these years I finally got around to writing him a letter in the last week of December, 2006. For fun, I enclosed something from my collection of rare techno-artefects, an IBM punchcard that I hadn't used for anything yet. The letter was returned to me, unopened and marked undeliverable earlier this week. I got a bad feeling off of that event; guess I was right.
That letter is now on my altar, sitting unopened. I think I'm going to put it away after a while and leave it that way.
I wish I could have gotten to meet, Robert. I had a chance to but it just wasn't meant to be. It looks like I'll have to wait until after the Eschaton.
Saloncon 2007 has been announced! It wil be held at the Holiday Inn in Somerset, New Jersey on 22 and 23 September 2007. Ticket prices will be $30us at the door and $20us in advance. Technically, there won't be a con on Friday but the more presale tickets they get, the better the chance that they'll be able to afford one.
For those of you wondering if winter's ever going to arrive, wonder no more! Someone in Fort Collins, Colorado is selling samples of snow from the blizzards they've been having all season. He's selling ten (10) samples at $0.99us each, shipped in sealed one gallon baggies. So far, he hasn't decided if he's going to pack the in dry ice for preservation.
Just when you thought home aquaria had reached its pinnacle, someone comes along and builds a habitrail for his fish that goes all through his apartment.
Hacking home fabrication systems.
Here's an unclassified memo written by the Transportation Safety Office that I'd never even considered: How to search service animals, like dogs and monkeys. Among the gems in this set of guidelines, it is important to carry proof that said service animal is not, in fact a pet, that TSO officers are trained to not actually touch service animals (good, they understand that part), if you have to leave the 'sterile area' so the animal can do its business, you'll have to undergo the screening process all over again, and that the diaper worn by helper monkeys may have to be searched.
Introducing the the iRobot, a robotics hobby kit from the creators of the Roomba and the Scooba. It's a kit in the sense that you get a crate full of gear to work with, you don't actually have to build the whole thing yourself, but this means that you do get to start hacking on it as soon as you get it. You plug its onboard microcontroller stright into your computer and start uploading code into it. The iRobot is also designed for expandability: There is a cargo bay which can be used for the attachment of peripherals you build yourself, such as new sensor packages or possibly maniulators (or a taser gun...). It comes already equipped with a basic sensor package with 32 inputs and 10 built-in demo programmes, so you can mess around with it before you really get into hacking them. As for some of the projects people are already doing with the iRobot, check out the Bionic Hamster.
I wonder if they named the hamster Steve...
Yvonne de Carlo, who played Lily Munster, is dead at the age of 84. Requisat en pace.
Happy birthday, Joe McMoneagle.
Here's an article just in from the "In other news, fire is hot and water is wet" department: A study shows that studies funded by companies tend to frame the products of those companies in a better light. A three step study of 111 dietetic studies of soda milk, and water was performed in such a way that the groups of researchers were ignorant of the conclusions of the others (the protocol is outlined in the article, it's pretty neat) to determine if the findings of the studies would be helpful or harmful to the bottom line of the organisation that actually funded the study. As it turns out, studies that were funded by the industry in question were an average of six times more likely to come out in favour of the funding body.
It's not a scientific study, it's an investment in the future of the company.
It came out in court that a Microsoft tech evangelist called independent programmers little more than pawns that had to be carefully courted and that "you can't win without them, and you have to take good care of them. You can't let them feel like they're pawns in the struggle."
How absolutely condescending.
People aren't resources, they are thinking, independent entities that rely upon mutual respect and job satisfaction if they're going to continue working for you, and without that you'll be lucky to get anything at all out of them, let alone something that actually works.
A heads-up to everyone planning on going to the Farpoint science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore, Maryland in February: Summer Glau is working on a new television series, and hence will not be able to attend, but she's traded off with Ron Glass ("Shepherd Book"), also from the cast of Firefly and Serenity.
This is what happens when you let the MPAA and RIAA write your design specs.
If you use the application called Steganography v1.7.* or v1.8 from Securekit, be advised: Files which have data hidden in them by this application have a recognisable fingerprint at the end of the file that gives away the fact that there is something hidden there. The fingerprint can be found with any hex editor, and looks like this: 30 00 0? FF FF. Moreover, once you know that something is hidden there, you can hack the file with steganographically concealed data to extract the hidden stuff without knowing the original password.
The Department of Homeland Security has not only demanded that the UK give it access to the e-mail accounts of British travellers but it wants to scan their fingerprints into the FBI's criminal information database for unlimited use. First of all, those fingerprints don't belong in a database of convicted felons; this is very much a tactic of "Guilty until proven innocent". Second, what's with this "unlimited use" bit? Who are they giving access to their databases to, anyway, and why? What are they going to use it for? What are their need-to-know criteria and situation? Third, biometric scanning systems are notoriously unreliable - often the false positive rate is better than 50-50, and techniques for manufacturing near-perfect fake fingerprints are no farther away than your local grocery store. As for the whole "this will stop future suicide bombers" schtick.. do you honestly think that a suicide bomber is going to care if their fingerprints are recorded for all time? The whole point of a suicide bombing is that the perp will be dead!
Security theatre: Act three, scene two. What a crock.
Note to self: All the walking in DC is making me go through tennis socks faster than I can replace them. I've blown through six socks in three days because they've ripped through without warning walk walking down the street. This is a little annoying because I feel like a slob.
...this is embarassing.
It's 2007, so the time for upgrading is probably upon most of us. To wit, here's something that should leave just about everyone drooling in anticipation: This Thursday upcoming, Hitachi will put their one terabyte hard drives on the consumer market with an opening price of $399us. The drives are designated 7K1000 and are designed for desktop and server class machines, and are at this time aimed at people who store massive amounts of video and audio data, though anyone who has built a personal file server to hold data is probably looking hungrily at their favourite tech store's website while waiting for them to appear in the catalogue. I know that I'm pondering how long it'll take to get two of them so I can build a file server that'll get Lyssa and I by for a year or two...
Another random thought for the day: Figure out what, if any sci-fi conventions that J.C.Hutchins will be attending and cosplay as John Alpha. That could be fun.
It seems that Acer's been doing something screwy with their disk images of Windows on their laptops - like an ActiveX control that can execute arbitrary commands through Internet Explorer. The control is called LunchApp.APlunch, and takes as its arguments a hard drive designator, a command to execute, and arguents to that command and executes the whole shebang.
...like so, if you're running IE on a reasonaby recent Acer laptop.
There's an up-side to this: If you're running IE7, you'll get a warning bar at the top asking you for permission to execute LUNCHAPP.OCX. The original author of this warning is still trying to track down which Acer laptops purchased from which regions of the world have this little beastie in them, so please leave him a comment with whatever you discover.
You'd be amazed what a single person can do when they do their homework and talk to the right people...
"Burn me at the stake, and I will return with a new handle." --Anonymous BBS user, circa 1994
Wow.. the most outspoken anti-homosexuality priests and preachers are falling from grace^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hin droves. This time the reverend Lonnie Latham of Oklahoma was arrested for propositioning a male undercover police officer for sex last Tuesday.
The new Information Society website went live!
The Lost Tales, the direct-to-DVD Babylon-5 movies are in post-production and are scheduled for release on 27 July 2007, thus sayeth JMS.
Lady Ada of thee Cult ov thee Dead C0w has unleashed her latest creation upon the Net: Wavebubble, a miniature self-tuning radio jammer that can run on two bands simultaneously for up to two hours on 3 AAA batteries or a rechargable integrated power cell. It's short range (about twenty feet) but that's all you need to make reception hell on the cellular frequencies. To reprogram it, all you have to do is jack it into the nearest computer via USB. You can download all of the necessary files to construct your own unit from the website (pending permission, I will mirror them to Alexandria).
Actually using this device, of course, is highly illegal.
The Family Foundation of Virginia, not content to make it impossible for same sex marriage to happen (let alone domestic partnership - thanks heaps, guys) has now decided to lobby the General Assembly to make it more difficult for married couples with children to divorce.
You know what I'm thinking: Children and spouses of abusive families.
Let's try this again - I just lost the last update.
Lyssa and I are home from the Ferrett's Doctor Who weekend marathon, having left at 0900 EST/EDT this morning to make it home arond 1530 EST/EDT. It's a six hour drive from DC to Cleveland no matter which way you're going, and I'm a little worn out from all the driving, but still we had a good time. We'd started off by watching An Unearthly Child from the beginning collection. It's black and white. The acting's a little dodgy, and not just because it was the first episode ever. Yet, it started it all..
Bit of trivia for you: The first broadcast of Un Unearthly Child was delayed 80 seconds in 1963 because the BBC was covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy at the time.
Next up was Tomb of the Cybermen starring Patrick Troughton. It was around this time that everyone in attendence began playing the Doctor Who Homoerotic Dialogue Drinking Game - not that we're perverts (well, most of us actually are perverts, actually), but even the most straight-laced of the viewers in attendence couldn't help but break down laughing time and again because the action and dialog were just that bad..
Next up was Spearhead From Space, the first of the John Pertwee stories. Ferrett described the John Pertwee era very succinctly, namely, as The Avengers with alien invasions. This episode featured the Autons, lead by the Nestene Consciousness, which viewers of the new series will no doubt remember from the first episode, Rose.
After a short break, Ferrett showed the episode that put Tom Baker on the map in the United States, Genesis of the Daleks. This is the story that everyone remembers - the Doctor and companions being hijacked en route by the Time Lords to prevent the creation of the Daleks before they can become a threat. You've got it all in this episode: Crippled mad scientists two fascist societies, the Doctor, the Daleks, and a healthy dose of "For the love of all that is pure and watching this DVD, do it!!"
The day concluded with a showing of the final Peter Davidson story, Caves of Androzani. This isn't particularly one of my favourites, but it dies stand out in that it's not the one Davidson episode that everyone and their backup names as their all-time favourite. Unfortunately, it also features the companion Peri, who is about as sharp as a sack of stoned mice and twice as annoying.
After the marathon was over Ferrett broke out the sample-cups and the Jones Soda Holiday Boxed Set - sodas that taste like turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, peas, and of course antacid.
It wasn't too nasty this year, I thought, save for the peas. The sodas mostly taste like what you'd expect them to taste like. The buttered pea flavoured soda, on the other hand, was just nasty. It didn't taste like anything organic that I could think of, only flavour chemicals thrown together. Ferrett's got a photograph of the face I made that'll be going up at some point in the near future.
Afterward we trooped a couple of blocks to a local brewery for a late, late dinner. A car full of high school kids was parked in a nearby parking lot watching us. Take note of that: It'll be important later.
The whole mass of us sat around talking and eating fairly decent bar food. Ididn't grab a business card so I don't know what restaurant it was, but if I can figure it out I'll post a link to it. Somehow I wound up in a conversation about the Daleks and the Cybermen, and who would have the advantage in such a battle (the final episode of season 28 aside). In a nutshell, the Daleks have a type 2 civilisation on the Kardashev scale, i.e., they are advanced enough that they exploit some very esoteric and at this time in the real-life year 2007, are considered at best theoretical, are not only an engineered race but are capable of re-engineering themselves, they have relatively fast interstellar travel, and have figured out shaped energy fields ("force shields"). The Cybermen have at most a type 1 civilisation, which is to say while they as a race engineer themselves (they have to - they're a cyborg race, and have to manufacture parts) and have energy weapons (blasters, practical lasers, et al), they haven't yet gone fast interstellar, let along interglactic, and use appropriated technology wherever appropriate (note the second: I'm referring to the season 28 Cybermen (post-Age of Steel)). The Dalek's have superior technology and energy reserves, in other words, and they are ruthless enough to use them.
Then I went off on the Kardashev scale and started talking about transhumanism, and it went off into the aether from there...
On the walk back, the same car full of high school kids stopped at a stoplight and asked us what a ragtag looking group of adults was doing walking down the street at midnight on a Sunday morning. I turned to say something and heard the faint telltale of a police car's siren spinning up, so I waited a moment until it really began to scream and then yelled "Cheese it! Run!" and took off down the sidewalk, with half of the group following me.
I couldn't have planned that better if I'd tried.
Lyssa and I stayed up with Zoethe and Ferrett until 0200 EST/EDT or so, at which time we headed downstairs to rest up for the long haul home today. My cellphone's alarm function woke us up at 0745 EST/EDT this morning, and after hurridly getting dressed and packed we got into the TARDIS and headed for the general direction of Washington, DC. We stopped off for a moment at Dunkin Donuts to get breakfast (coffee cake and bagel sandwiches; their coffee doesn't seem to suck anymore, either) and then hit the highway for the long haul.
That about catches us up for the weekend, I think. And so, to bed.
1128 EST/EDT. Lyssa and I made it into Cleveland, Ohio around 0155 EST/EDT this morning (five minutes within projected arrival time!) The Ferrett is running a Doctor Who marathon today, and Lyssa and I made the long drive to Ohio from DC to join everyone. Some of us have been fans for a while, some of us are new to the series (like Ian, sitting on the floor across the room watching Rose from season 27).
First things first, but not necessarily in that order.. I left work early yesterday afternoon so that I could pick up my car at the garage. The work was finished, really, the final inspections had to be done before they could release it, but the catch was that after the vehicle was ready, I had only 24 hours to return my rental car and pick it up at the garage/rental agency. Annoying, becuase I was supposed to drive out here last night...
So I made a couple of calls over lunch and managed to bump up the inspection a few hours. End result: The TARDIS is ready for pickup at 1730 EST/EDT. Somehow I managed to make it both there and back home on the beltway in decent time, which is no mean feat for a Friday in DC, and then ran home to throw clothes into a suitcase to hit to road.
After loading everything up, I took a moment out to make a couple of last minute modifications to my car's electrical system to make the trip easier on everyone, and then Lyssa and I set out.
Or started to, at any rate. We stopped off for dinner at the local deli; I had to run home to pick up the power inverter so that we could plug our phones in to recharge on the trip, and made it back in time to eat before my meal got cold. The actual trip took about seven hours, counting two stop offs to stretch our legs and get coffee. Not bad for crossing three states on the turnpike, I think...
Gotta go - An Unearthly Child is on.
Today's the fifth of January - the TARDIS is supposed to be ready at the body shop by now. Cross your fingers, everyone.
thunderbird -ProfileManager - For when you absolutely, positively have to do things to your e-mail configuration that would make any sane system administrator (hush, you!) cringe.
Laptop users take note: SanDisk is going to unveil its next generation storage drives at CES next week, namely, 32GB flash drives for portable computers. The drives are built using solid-state flash technology, which means no moving parts (and thus, lower power requirements). For a while they've been available for certain applications outside of the consumer market, so this represents a landmark advance for Everyone Else.. Everyone Else That Can Afford It, that is. These new drives will cost in the neighborhood of $600us at the outset, which is a hefty chunk of change if you're speccing out a new portable machine. Also, they max out at 32GB, which is much smaller than most hard drives in notebooks these days, so it's not actually all that much of a win. Still, it's something to keep your eye on for the next year or two, as prices will start to come down after they go into full release and higher storage density drives will begin to hit the market.
Does anybody else find it ironic that the OpenBSD security alerts mailing list (security (dash) announce (at) openbsd (dot) org) doesn't PGP sign the messages it sends out? For all I know, the AGP-if-you-don't-actually-have-AGP patch could be an attempt to get me to install trojaned code in the kernel tree of my lab boxen...
It looks as if North Korea has lined up another test nuclear detonation without any prior announcement or warning on the usual newswires. They're not sure if North Korea will actually go through with it, though after the explosion detected on 8 October 2006 quite a few eyes and ears are focused on the country, that's for sure.
This article pretty much sums up my point of view these days: I'm sick of being told that I'm sick when I'm just having an off day. Natural variation is coming to mean 'broken', when in fact existence is a spectrum of possible states, and not a binary either/or state.
Well, the watchword of the day seems to be 'ow', as in "Ow, ow, ow, dammit!"
As part of my New Year's resolution to get in better shape I've started to work out twice a week, and discovered once again that my body isn't as young as I wish it was. It's been two days now, and most of the major muscle groups are firing off error messages as fast as they possibly can because they've put in a lot more duty time than they're accustomed to doing for a professional geek. I still can't walk without pain for long periods of time, and let me tell you, maneuvering in this state with a rather heavy backpack isn't so much fun, either. I'm starting to feel like an old man, and rather wish I'd thought to bring one of my walking sticks to help get around DC.
In hindsight, the sixteen-block hike yesterday morning to and from an office that I had an appointment at probably didn't help any. For the record, that's eight blocks each way - DC is not a small place, and not everything is within spitting distance. Unfortunately, it would have been just as much of a walk to get to the building that had a shuttle-bus to the office I was headed for, so it wound up being an either/or situation.
Wikileaks - a website set up to facilitate the leaking of sensitive documents and the analysis therof for the assistance of whistleblowers.
It looks like all mail is fair game for surveillance now.. on 20 December 2006, George W. Bush signed a bill that changed postal regs in several ways, including making it legal to open and record the conents of any snail mail sent during 'times of emergency' (such as we've had in the US since 9/11) for any reason. This essentially guts the very same bill tht it was attached to - he may as well have not even signed the bill and gone ahead to do it, anyway. A spokescritter for the White House says that this does not give the President any more power, which is an outright lie. Making it legal to open and read anyone's mail is indeed a power grab (interestingly, the name of said spokescritter was not published).
I ask you - when is this going to end?!
Three days to finish updating Luel... I will never again wait this long between system updates...
I will also resolve the package dependency conflicts that prevent an emerge --update --deep --newuse world from running unattended.
Here's a cloud to find a silver lining in - research into technically nonlethal virobiological weapons. Technically - known side effects were coma and death from brain swelling, but at least some of the time the usual effects were similiar to that of a bad case of the flu. This research never got off the ground because of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972, but serious work was still done at the time.
From the information security community to the end-users at home: Just like the hard drives you're getting rid of, wipe your solid state storage media before you get rid of it, because data can be extracted from it most of the time, and some of it you might not want getting out (like your financial records, in a couple of the examples in the article).
If you've been keeping an eye on politics in the DC area, you've probably heard word of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, and all the hullabaloo therof, from his being accused of being a threat to American values by Virgil Goode, who embarasses my now-home state of Virginia with his words, to much nastier things coming from people with perpetually sunburned necks and meshback ballcaps. This should bake quite a few noodles, then: Ellison will swear his oath of office... on a copy of the Koran that was owned by Thomas Jefferson, on loan from the Library of Congress.
Happy "Oh, gods, I have to go back to work?!" day, everyone.
Wait a minute... ex-president Gerald Ford died?!
Lyssa pointed me at an article that brought up something that never occurred to me - how libraries manage the limited amount of space they have for all of their materials. This is to say, they keep track of how often each book is checked out (much easier to do since card catalogues and patron records went digital in the mid 1990's) and if it isn't touched for longer than a certain time, they either throw the books out (dumpster diving at the local library is how I got most of my books when I was a kid) or put them up for sale during the yearly fundraisers. At the very least, there is a chance that someone will buy a copy and keep it, which keeps the information inside the text available in some fashion, but a lot of books get thrown in the trash and are lost. When you think about how rare (or how expensive) some books are, this is a painful waste. I think this would be an ideal place for e-books to fit into the informational ecosystem - in the same physical space taken up by a hardback textbook, you can fit about a dozen DVD-ROM disks containing several thousand texts in .pdf, .chm, or .html format apiece.
The problem there, of course, lies in converting the text into electronic format. OCR (optical character recognition) software is good, but far from perfect. Also, scanning books can be a long and involved process. The easiest thing to do by far, is scan every pair of pages into .tiff or .jpg files, cut them in half with a graphics programme, and then stitch them into a .pdf file. This also has its drawbacks (such as lack of searchability, and the fact that most people don't take the time to develop a table of contents for them, but it also preserves the information inside the text.
Then there's the whole matter of copyright. Fair use says that you can scan a book into an electronic document for personal use only but you can't legally redistribute them, and libraries potentially do just this (just look at the bank of photocopiers in your average library for more information).
There isn't a fast or easy way to preserve texts that are being thrown out and possibly lost for all time. Painful to admit, but true. You also can't rely upon the goodness of most people to help out if one happened to say, "Hey, scan in that book to preserve it before you throw it out," because most people will not have the time, the energy after work, or simply won't care to OCR a book before they get rid of it. It's simply not feasible.
It seems that the brains and brawn of Los Alamos National Labs are getting fed up with the random drug and polygraph testing policies going into action, and they're not going to take it. It's been proven in labs several times over the years (since their inception, actually - the FBI has released files on the research) that polygraphs aren't a very good way to figure out what kind of person someone is (which is part of the purpose of taking a poly for a clearance), and the prospect of being roped into one at any time for no good reason doesn't really make for a good work environment. This says nothing of how it can derail your train of thought when you're on a roll in the lab...
Note to self: Be very, very careful when using the --newuse option of emerge. This is going to take a while...
And, at this rate, migrating to a real weblogging system is going to kill me. Does anyone know of a good package that won't force me to rip out my entire website and re-enter everything (over five years of work)?
The UK is having kittens over the new traveller information sharing directives that the United States demanded: The way the laws were written, if they want to fly to the US the credit card information and e-mail traffic, if available, have to be turned over for inspection and archival. Failure to turn over this information can cause a traveller to be refused entry to the United States. It remains to be seen how they're going to send the US the e-mail traffic that goes to and from the e-mail address you gave to your travel agency, but considering that the European Union has passed laws that require ISPs to record all network traffic to and from every IP address they issue, this might prove easier than expected. The obvious way around this is to use a webmail address only for buying things, and thus separating the information that is necessary for a company's bookkeeping from your personal life.
To quote Bugs Bunny, "Did you ever get the feeling that you wuz bein' watched?"
The Month of Apple Bugs has begun.
Gee.. ya think he's a browncoat?
Happy New Year, everyone.
The subject line of the first spam of the new year? "My watershed the vasectomy".
That's what I'd like to see, in my slightly inhebriated state! More spammers getting vasectomies!
Well, it's the first day of 2007. Somehow, we all survived another year, a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and a little bit more jaded. The point is, though, that we made it.
Last night, everyone started arriving at our apartment around 1930 EST/EDT. I drove out to pick up Hummingwolf from the Metro station and then headed back to make sure that everything was running smoothly back home. Lyssa had been slow-cooking a ham in the new slow cooker for most of the day, and our guests were nice enough to bring all manner of tasty things with them to help ring in the new year. Jarin had driven to Maryland to pick up the Lost Boys; Hasufin and Mika came by with many things I wasn't able to get earlier in the day (once again, my messed up sense of time struck; I didn't know that the liquor stores were closed on Sundays down here), so the party wasn't down on libations.
New Year's Eve was one of those nights where there was so much going on, I don't think that any one person was keeping track of it. Mika got a new laptop for Yule, and she spent a good bit of the night working on it to get it up to scratch for daily use. Just about everyone else made their rounds, sitting, talking, drinking, eating dinner (unlike the last party we threw, we had a good bit of real food around in addition to the junkfood one would expect), watching television, and roaming around for the hell of it.
Like most everyone else on the eastern seaboard, we watched the digits on the clocks and turned on one of the national networks to watch the ball in New York City drop at midnight. The rest of the night was spent sitting around reminiscing, polishing off the cheese platter that Lyssa had made, watching more television, lazing around the apartment.. Hasufin and Mika took their leave at once point, followed by Rab and Rhianna. The rest of us went to sleep around 0400 EST/EDT today, dead tired and not really up for much of anything more.
We dragged ourselves out of bed around noon and got cleaned up while Lyssa made breakfast, ham and eggs, for everyone. Everyone started filtering out of the apartment shortly therafter while Lyssa napped and I figured out what I had to get at the supermarket for the rest of the week.
My brain's still a little scrambled after this week. I've put my body through a lot of abuse, and I've decided that I'm going to get back into shape in 2007. I'm going to take up martial arts again, and I'm going to start hitting the gym as soon as I can.
The down-low on Hussein's execution.
My new USB audio recorder rocks all known sheep. I'm currently recording the third tape of.. who knows.. and the damage done to the tapes from listening to them so much over the years aside, the recordings are very clear and clean.
Now recording: Void by Under Midnight.
Well, there are slightly more than twenty-four hours left in the year 2006 of the common era, and I am still figuring out what in the hell happened to my vacation.
No, seriously. I'm not complaining about not getting a vacation or anything like that, I'm really wondering what happened to it. At some point in the first three days off, I lost track of what day of the week it was. When I last knew for sure it was Saturday, and Lyssa and I were headed back to Pennsylvania to see our folks. Things got a little weird after that, and then I was only sure of calendar days.. sort of. I stopped keeping track around Christmas Day and wound up thoroughly screwing my chronolocative senses.
Yesterday Lyssa and I spent the day cleaning up around the house. The kitchen was completely stripped down and cleaned up, and I threw a couple of loads of laundry in between jaunts to run errands. I've been making breakfast in the mornings, too, which is something that I quite enjoy.
I'm still recording cassette tapes using my new USB converter. I'm in love with new tech. I should listen to what I've been recording soon so that I can be sure that they actually took, and then I can get rid of the tapes to reclaim space.
Last night, Lyssa, Hasufin, Mika, and I decided to head back to the Galleria to go to the Lebanese Taverna in northern Virginia near the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. Finding the Galleria wasn't too difficult, seeing as how we've been there before. Actually finding the restaurant inside of the Galleria was a comedy of errors on my part. Not only do I have a hard time navigating the highways, but I'm not so good with multi-level shopping complexes, either. It took Lyssa to find the restaurant, I'm ashamed to admit.
This ties in with the whole "what day is it, anyway?" effect I've been dealing with all week. I didn't realise that it was Friday night in NOVA, which meant that the Lebanese Taverna (1840-G International Drive; McLean, VA; 703-847-5244) was going to be packed, practically to standing room only.
Unfortunately, this meant that the quality of the food and the quality of the service would have a inversely proportional relationship. Or, in other words, I've got to give it a rating of three and one-half flareguns - good food, but I almost had to resort to pyrotechnics to get any service. It took far too long to even get our water refilled, let alone our meals. They also messed up Mika's order pretty badly, given her dietary restrictions since having her gallbladder removed a while back. Part of this can be chalked up to how busy they were, but that excuse only goes so far.
I don't think we'll be going back there anytime soon.
More on the death of Saddam Hussein.. I don't know if this is real or not, but I've looked at it and the faces are consistent with what I've seen in the BBC and CNN news morgues, so I'm willing to suspend judgement of this video, which appears to show the last few seconds of Hussein's life.
I don't know why I'm following this... it's not my usual morbid fascination at work here, nor is it because I am particularly interested in the politics of the Middle East. It's not because I particularly had a hate-on for Hussein; as a rule, I don't let myself succumb to hatred of any kind, because of the pain it inflicts upon the rest of the universe.
Wait, I do know why.
In the US, executions are performed in the depths of state and federal prisons, and the most the public will hear of them are press releases that such-and-such were put to death at midnight on this-day. Rarely are photographs allowed to be taken, and video footage is, so far as I know, never permitted. You already know how I feel about capital punishment, so I won't cover that again. Videos like this, assuming that they're real and not clever mockups, drive the point home. Execution is murder, pure and simple. Murder of the one as revenge on the part of the many, dead and alive. This isn't hidden behind concrete and steel walls. This isn't black text on dirty white newsprint, nor is it ASCII on a screen. It's video footage of someone being killed for their crimes.
This is what it looks like. It's scary. It's nasty. It's a loud "Snap!" as the rope goes taut and the neck breaks. It's the rustling of fabric as the now uncontrolled body spasms as it tries to act on the last commands from a swiftly dying brain. It might even be the dripping of urine on the floor from a height of about ten feet as the sphincters relax.
This is death.
Remember it well. Remember why it was inflicted, and upon whom it was inflicted.
As for what it does to the balance of karma, it's not my place to say, because I simply don't know. What I do know is that there is symmetry to all things, including life (and what one does with it) and death (and how one reaches it).
Wow.. are there only three days left in 2006?? It feels like time's been flying by faster than even the most sensitive of clocks can account for.
Lyssa and I have been back in DC for about two days now, and it's been a hell of a vacation thus far. On the 26th, while we were still in Pennsylvania, Lyssa spent some time at home with a friend of hers while I trekked back to Pittsburgh to see my family some more, and catch up with some close friends thereof who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately, this sort of messed with the plans I already had set out but there isn't much that can be done about that when it comes to folks helping out when they really don't have to. That afternoon I spent the afternoon with Chuck, Judy, and John (Judy's son). The family and I headed over to celebrate Yule a day after the fact and hang out, a day which turned into an afternoon of munching on leftovers, re-burning CDs that didn't take quite right, and catching up on everything going on back home. We got back around 1700 EST/EDT that day, and my mother and I spent some time in the basement, my old laboratory, cleaning stuff up, throwing stuff out, and digging out some stuff to bring back to DC with me.
Since Lyssa got me that USB audio recorder, I've been planning on converting my collection of audiocassettes (which numbers in the high triple digits from my days as a DJ) into .mp3 files for archival, so that I can get rid of most of them to free up space in my apartment as well as in my folks' house. This would also mean that I could listen to them more (at all, really) by loading them into my iPod. To that end, I picked out a couple of score of tapes, disconnected the dual-slot high-quality tape deck from my PA rig, and loaded the whole lot into the trunk of my TARDIS for the trek back to DC.
I got back to Mather around 2000 EST/EDT to meet up with Lyssa, and found that not only were we going a little stir-crazy but that Grant, Mike, and Jill had left for home. In an attempt to get our heads screwed on straight we headed for Sheetz for a snack and some fresh air. We definitely didn't need anything more to eat seeing as how the holiday season is always (a little too) full of tasty things to eat, but sometimes junkfood is just what you need.
We left early the next day for DC and arrived around 1330 EST/EDT, which is a personal record for us because the highway running through West Virginia was all but deserted for the most part.
The day after we got home we did much more running around to get everything squared away - Lyssa had to get her allergy shot for the week, we had to go to the store to pick up a couple of things, there was post-Yule cleanup to do... and Hausfin's car, since it was broken into a couple of days ago, is undrivable because the lock on the driver's side door is thoroughly jacked up. I had a few last-minute errands to run yesterday afternoon, so I drove over to his place and we ran around northern Virginia picking stuff up. This, unfortunately, got me home rather late yesterday afternoon, which left Lyssa and dinner hanging.
This was not my intention - in fact, I'd explained that there were a number of places that had to be visited to get stuff. That is, however, neither here nor there.
Last night Heron61 and Teaotter, who are visiting Heron's parents in northern Virginia, wanted to get together to hang out with Rialian, Lyssa, and myself, partially to get away from Heron's folks but mostly to hang out for the holiday. Rialian came over around 2030 EST/EDT last night, and we piled into the TARDIS to find the homestead of Heron's parents.. which wound up being something of an adventure, not because the house is particularly far away but because it is nestled very far back amidst a mass of small, single-lane, tree-lined streets reminiscent of something in Zork, or perhaps Wishbringer by Infocom. Finding the house wasn't particularly hard - finding our way out of there and back to the highway proved a challenge.
Heron, Teaotter, Rialian, Lyssa, and I hung out just about all night, lounging around the apartment, munching from the cheese tray, and talking about all manner of things, from writing game supplements (and some of the odd line requirements for such writing projects) to the random odd stuff that people like us run into on a daily basis to what it's like to return home after so many years and most everything in between. We stayed up until 0230 EST/EDT today or so, at which time I had to go to bed because I had to get up early. Rialian was kind enough to drive Teaotter and Heron back to his parents' place, so I didn't worry too much about their getting home. Rialian's getting home was a different matter entirely, though..
I got out of bed at 1000 EST/EDT today so that I could get the TARDIS to my insurance company's repair center to have an estimate done and get the damage to the body repaired. I'm told that it's looking like it's the fault of the college student that nailed me on my way back to Pittsburgh, so my deductible is taken care of, as are the rest of the repairs. My rental car was made ready while I sipped coffee and leafed through travel magazines (how decadent (by my standards, anyway)!) and then put my signature on some dead trees and after a few minor adjustments set course for home.
Anybody want a Klein bottle?
Okay. Let me get this straight: The US Park Service is not allowed to comment on the age of the Grand Canyon to keep from offending young-Earth Creationists?
All hail the flying Rhenquist - when griefers attack in Second Life!
Scratch one dictator: They hung Saddam Hussein at 2200 EST/EDT tonight. My only questions are when the footage shot will leak out, and whether they used the short drop/hoisted from a crane hanging technique common in the Middle East, or if they used the British long drop hanging technique (for a quick kill).
Something tells me that they used a long drop to speed his execution along. A short drop can take up to a half hour to kill, and it's not at all painless.
Back in DC, safe and sound and dead tired.
Congratulations to John Barrowman and Scott Gill, who were wedded in a civil ceremony this morning. Barrowman and Gill have been together for sixteen years and are still going strong.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
James Brown, requisat en pace When I get home, I'll play some good, old fashioned LA Style in your memory, because it was That Song, the first track of Best of Rave volume one that got me listening to you after all.
Lyssa and I got up around 0800 EST/EDT, when our circadian rhythms had decided that we'd gotten enough sleep, and got ourselves going for the long haul back to Pittsburgh to visit my family. Lyssa's father had gone to the nursing home to visit Grandma Pat before we'd awakened, so we waited for a while until everyone was up and around and then exchanged gifts. Lyssa got a new digital camera, a new crockpot, and a Joy of Tea Collection for her headline gifts, while I got the Doctor Who season 27/1 boxed set, and a new jumper and pair of jeans (which I'm wearing right now).
I should also update everyone on the condition of Lyssa's father: He came home late last night and is doing fine. He's on medication to handle his asthma and is due for a medical workup in the near future.
We stopped off for free coffee and fast breakfast sandwiches at the local Sheetz (which has free coffee every Christmas Day) and then hit the highway headed northward once again. The roads were mostly empty and the weather nice, so it was smooth sailing back home. Downtown Pittsburgh is almost dead on the holidays, so it's an ideal shortcut at this time of year. All in all, it took us a little over an hour to get back to Pittsburgh, and thence to the homestead.
Home really is a place where you an come back and they'll welcome you with open arms and a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen. When we came in with our arms laden with presents for everyone, it was as if we'd only gone to Giant Eagle ten minutes ago. My mother had a tapas lunch on and a chicken in the electric rotisserie (thanks, Judy!), and we sat at the dinner table and caught up on the events of the past few months (including our ill-fated trip back home on Saturday).
Gifts came after lunch and coffee.. I got a new pocketwatch, another jumper, a couple of CDs, and a figure-a-day origami calendar. Lyssa got a shirt, three books, four skeins of bright blue baby alpaca yarn, a tealight puzzle set (the tealight holders are jigsaw puzzle pieces), and a trio of hanging fishbowls that double as area lamps.
We sat around this afternoon enjoying each other's company and watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which neither of us had seen yet. It's a rare movie that's as good as the original, and this movie definitely fits that bill.
I really don't know what else to write.. family's family. I know it's the little things all added together that make it important, but if you asked me to describe what they were, I honestly couldn't tell you. I went home, for all that implies. I got to spend time with the people I love, talk about people that I haven't seen in ages, and.. well.. be a family.
It pains me to not have words for these concepts, but there you have it. After everything that's happened, that little house in Pittsburgh is still home.
Happy day-before-Yule, everyone.
It's been an interesting trip back to Pennsylvania, to say the very least. Lyssa and I finally got the TARDIS loaded up and set course for Pittsburgh around 1130 EST/EDT yesterday morning, stopped off for a quick lunch at the local deli, and then headed for the northbound beltway for the long haul.
I'm very glad that I was able to talk Lyssa out of driving home on Friday night because driving conditions were so bad in the DC area. Between the rain, the darkness, and all the headlights of people trying to do last minute shopping it really wasn't worth going out on Friday night. On our dinner and errand running jaunt on Friday, we had a hell of a time just getting anywhere safely, let alone in a timely manner.
Traffic on route 270-north was pretty bad yesterday, in the form of stop and go and stop once again patterns from the beltway onward. Many travelers were probably running late and impatient to get to their destinations, and it showed.
Especially the recent college grad who rear-ended Lyssa and I yesterday afternoon in a half-hearted attept to drive throughthe TARDIS at roughly forty miles per hour in an attempt to beat everyone in front of her to exit 22.
That's right, folks.. I got in another fucking car crash yesterday afternoon.
Lyssa and I are all right, as is the driver of the jeep that hit us. The TARDIS is definitely worse for wear: The trunk lid was jammed and had to be forced open, and the rear fender on the right-hand side is in sad shape, including a hole the size of a quarter in the high-density ballistic plastic. There might have been some structural damage as well.
While I copied down the other driver's information, Lyssa and the other driver photographed the damage on the other's vehicle. Apparently, it was her first wreck and she didn't know what to do so I walked her through the process, and then called 911 to get a police officer to the scene. A state trooper from Maryland (I guess that's where we were at the time, it's hard to tell on the highway) made sure everyone was okay, radioed in a report, and made room in traffic for us to go on our respective not-so-merry ways.
As soon as I could, I pulled into a gas station and called my insurance company to report it. About three hours later, I got in touch with the adjustor assigned to my case and made my statement. Now the paperwork's in motion and by and large it's out of my hands.
I could go into a lot more detail on this but I won't. Frankly, I'm in no mood to discuss it right now for reasons that I can't really get into. As far as I'm concerned, it's over, done with, and out of my hands. I've got an appointment to get the TARDIS checked out when I get back to Virginia, and start the repair process.
You can bet your last byte of RAM that I'm going to be putting some serious mojo on my car as soon as I possibly can, though. Enough is enough.
I wound up spending most of last night playing Phantasy Star Universe on Grant's Xbox 360 to unwind. I think I went to bed around midnight last night, utterly exhausted and only wanting the day before to come to a graceful end before anything else bad had a chance to happen.
We got up around 1000 EST/EDT this morning and somehow got ourselves ready to go out for a bit. The pre-going anywhere prep time was lengthened and complicated by the sheer number of people in the house vying for the bathroom that has a shower, so there was plenty of time to wake up, get a cup of (lousy) coffee (or two), shower, and get dressed. Lyssa and I set out for the Bob Evans that had just opened a few months ago to get breakfat and then headed for the nursing home where Grandma Pat lives now. A few weeks ago she broke her hip in a fall, and she is now staying in a home for an indefinite time. It wasn't all that difficult to find the home because Lyssa knows her hometown, but I must admit that I did get a little lost in the home itself while trying to find the restroom. It's a big, flat complex, with lots of hallways that branch off at 45 degree angles, unlike most medical facilities.
I haven't been in a retirement home in a long, long while. Not since I worked at Eldervision back in Pittsburgh and went around swapping out hardware for the beta testers. This retirement home seemed sleepy. Sleepy and tired and patient. It scares me that I might wind up in such a home a few decades in the future, staring at a mute television (or whatever passes for such when my body's runtime is almost up), listening to my hearts beat and joints creak, waiting for the inevitable.
I'm okay with dying. Not slowly going to pieces, though, my mind perhaps the first thing to unravel like a poorly constructed winter muffler.
Back to writing.
I got stuck outside of Grandma Pat's room for a while as a nurse prepped her breathing treatment (which I didn't know about from my position in the mostly soundless hallway). I wandered around the halls, not going anywhere in particular but wanting to see what I could see. White walls with big, white plastic bumpers affixed to them, which people in wheelchairs could use to pull themselves around (even though they were placed there to keep the walls from being damaged by the very same wheelchairs). Scuffed floors. People laying in beds. Nurses looking dead tired, yet doing their best to make everyone there comfortable and keep them busy. The occasional family visitor stopping in to wish someone a Merry Christmas.
I made a couple of stops here and there, grins and teeth and a sparkle, trying to bring a little light to a dreary Pennsylvania day, the day before Christmas.
Lyssa and I sat with Grandma Pat for somewhere around two hours, talking, spending time, being family. I'm not sure of how else to describe it. We were a family this afternoon.
I'm starting to fit in with Lyssa's biological family a little better these days. It doesn't feel odd to come to the house anymore. I can relax more readily there these days, moreso than before.
We tried to pick up the makings of sangria at the state store after we left the nursing home, but most of the stores in Pennsylvania are closed on Sunday (moreso because it's Christmas Eve) and wound up going to Giant Eagle for some last minute groceries before heading back to the house to get ready for dinner tonight.
I should probably go back downstairs and mingle more.
It's now 2300 EST/EDT, ad Lyssa's father is in the hospital; he was taken there earlier tonight after spending much of the evening on oxygen. His asthma has been acting up most of today due to the multiple pets in the house (two cats and Grant's dog), and the decision was made after dinner to set up the portable oxygen tank and load him into the car.
The call's come down to get him. Time to head out.
2312 EST/EDT: Check that. They want to keep him longer to do more bloodwork. I get the feeling that we're going to be pulling an all-nighter to pick him up eventually.
One Todd Shriber, age 28, press aide to US Representative Denny Rehberg, tried to hire a couple of hackers to edit his college transcript so that he'd look better. The thing is, he e-mailed the guys at attrition.org, who have having a field day with this.
An old chewing gum commercial says "Double your pleasure, double your fun," but I don't think this is exactly what they had in mind.. one hannah Kersey, age 23 from the UK have birth to triplets. Triplets carried to term in her two uterii. I'm not pulling your leg, folks, she really does have two wombs. The three girls (two identical twins, and an odd one out) were born by cesarian section seven weeks early.
Does anyone out there have a USB scanner that I can borrow? Mine just died in the middle of something important...
The new threat to teenagers these days is now taking prescription drugs instead of street drugs to get high. John Walters, director of National Drug Policy at the White House says that this is because there is a misperception that prescription drugs are somehow safer than street drugs.
Walters, you're dead wrong. It's because prescription drugs are now more powerful than just about anything you can buy off the street. Oxycontin is more powerful than heroin, ex-junkies say (and labs confirm, incidentally).
The state of New Jersey has signed same-sex civil unions into law. Next stop: Real marriage.
This is the sort of thing that gives me a geekbone: How to galvanically etch brass plates to use as the covers of notebooks. I'd love to make one for my research notes..
It's been an interesting day, to say the least.. I got out of work early yesterday after a meeting offsite because the office was closed yesterday, and most everyone is taking the last week of the year off for holiday vacation. I got home in time to stretch out a little and get some long-overdue Work done, and then headed back to the Metro station to pick up Lyssa, who unfortunately didn't get off early. We wound up at Anita's for dinner, because Lyssa had somehow gone all day without eating, which isn't particularly good for anyone. We had a warming, tasty dinner of Tex-Mex food, and then headed home to wrap gifts for Yule. I'd gotten a jumpstart a few days ago, but more gifts had arrived in the mail and I didn't want to run out of time.
I got the last of Lyssa's gifts wrapped up while listening to the two H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society albums, A Shoggoth on the Roof and A Very Scary Solstice. They're rather obscure, so a brief description that won't bore you is this: They're parodies of musicals and holiday carols with a distinct weird horror feel, featuring such gems as I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth and Silent Night, Blasphemous Night.
Okay, so it's a little weird for most people. I'm rather fond of good parodies.
Jump ahead to today. Lyssa and I were working from home so that we'd have everything buttoned up for our Yule vacation and trip back to Pennsylvania to see friends and family. I did some more reading for work, and during a break I tried to hook up the scanner that I'd brought with me from Pittsburgh when I moved (sorry, Mom) to scan a couple of things into image files so that I can stitch them into .pdf files later, and discovered much to my chagrin that the scanner bought the farm. The optical element doesn't slide anymore, it just sits about one quarter of the way up the scanning tray and vibrates as the gears try to rip themselves apart.
I'm really sorry, Mom.
Scratch the document archival project for today.
After we'd gotten our work done today, Lyssa and I opened a couple of gifts early. We're going to be in Pittsburgh for the Yule holiday, so we're only going to bring with us a couple of things for other folks, including our families. Lyssa had given me a David Tenant Doctor Who figure that will be going with me to work in 2007 and something that I've been meaning to get for a while now, an Instant Music by ADS Technologies, which is a USB sound digitiser. The idea is that you can plug a turntable or a cassette player into it, plug the other end into a USB port on your computer, and you can record the music into .mp3 files for storage. I've got quite a few favourite LPs from my days as a DJ, so I'll be recording everything I possibly can into .mp3 files to put onto my iPod. She also gave me a copy of the Forever Knight soundtrack on CD, which has always been one of my favourites.
I don't have the time to outline everything I got for Lyssa because I should get to bed for the trip back home tomorrow morning, but suffice it to say that I think I did right by her.
I got it!! Thread pools!
Here's something you don't see every day, but I sincerely hope will become common in the next couple of years: Books On Demand, both a principle and the name of a company (well, it's called On Demand Books, actually... I tried) that manufactures automatic printing press/bindaries. Their first model, called the Espresso Book Machine, costs $50kus, but can print, cut, trim, bind, and fit into a laminated cover two books simultaneously inside of seven wallclock minutes, or 15-20 library quality books per hour. There are two in public right now, one at the World Bank Infoshop in my home town of Washington, DC, and one at the public Library of Alexandria, Egypt (make what jokes you will). The cost of a single paperback book is about $0.01us per page. They are at this time working on setting up a digital library of texts that can be freely printed and purchased by anyone who uses an Espresso Book Machine in just about any format and with respect to copyright laws. They don't say, however, if you can walk up and print a file on some storage medium you happen to have with you, though...
I'm going to track down the World Bank Infoshop and see what it's all about.
It seems that Google has changed its mind about one of their more famous open projects, namely, allowing web developers to use the SOAP protocol to pull data from their network. They've quietly killed the Search SOAP project and ulled the developers' kit from the website. Here's the thing: Google's SOAP API is used to teach developers how to integrate other sites' functionality into their own. You might say that it's the gold standard, about which many books have been written (well, all of them, actually). An open source project called EvilAPI has arisen to provide continued access but it's anyone's guess as to whether or not it'll work for long. Rumours are already going around that IP addresses that scrape data from the Google net (rather than pull it using the AJAX search API) are getting banned.
Why not use the AJAX search API? First, it'll take time for people to figure out how to use it and document everything. Second, it has only a fraction of the features of the SOAP API. Third, the AJAX API places unreasonable search limits (only eight hits per query). Your average Google search returns an order of magnetude more than that.
This can't be good. They started filming a remake of WarGames.
A couple of weeks ago, a document pertaining to the conditions under which enemy combatants could be photographed was leaked to the ACLU, which promptly made it available even though it carried a security classification of SECRET. The US government, sensing the information leak, freaked out and hauled the ACLU before a grand jury to get them to turn over all copies of the memo extant. The ACLU fought back and the government dropped the case, declassifying the document in the process. The government also released all of their legal documents related to the abortive lawsuit.
This takes the taco, ladies and gentlemen... a high school kid who was mauled by the cannon the football team fires at games for each touchdown is getting threats because they think his injury might keep them from firing it at the next game. Both the student (one Brett Karch) and his parents have been getting threatening phone calls and visits from pissed off football players as well as fans if they don't keep it quiet. The family is also threatened with censure from the town if they continue to aid in the investigation.
During a test shot, the cannon exploded and shrapnel tore into Karch's leg. This didn't even stop the game: The players paid no attention, and aside from the EMT squad, bystanders and attendees scarcely noticed.
See you next time, Crusher.
Last night Lyssa, Orthaevelve, and I decided to go out to dinner to celebrate things looking up at work these days after work. It was something of a snap decision, you see - I got a call from my boss while I was at the Metro station headed for home, and immediately told Lyssa as soon as she arrived. After going to the doctor's office so that she could get her weekly allergy inoculation, we called up Orthaevelve and asked about the wherabouts of any good Chinese restaurants in the area. Much to our surprise, there was one within a comfortable driving distance.. I wish that I'd thought to pick up a menu while I was there becaue I don't remember the name of the restaurant off the top of my head. The food there is excellent, easily the best Chinese I've had since leaving Pittsburgh. The pot-stickers were tasty, even without dipping sauce; the egg rolls were to die for, Lyssa tells me; the egg drop soup is well worth the trip; let me tell you, the General T'sao's Chicken was amazing. The portions are a little on the generous side, so if you've got the option to order the small of each dish, use it. Prices are decent, about $13us per person for dinner.
Overall verdict: One and a half flareguns, name of restaurant to come.
EDIT: The name of the restaurant is China Star (9600 G Main Street; Fairfax, Virginia, 22031; phone number 703-393-8822).
Afterward we did a little shopping at A.C. Moore so that Lyssa could stock up on yarn, and Orthaevelve could raid the beading supplies. For my part, I didn't have much to do while there because I don't have any craft projects running at the moment, but I did wnder around a bit in the stationary section to look for interesting pens, and contact paper that I could run through a printer to make some stickers. We left around 2000 EST/EDT, discussing the self-done tattoos on a 15-year old with more attitude than common sense (and definitely hepatitis immunity).
I've been following the matter of RFID enabled passports for a while now, and everything I've seen thus far has not lead me to really trust them because RFID tags are insecure by design: As long as you can bounce a radio signal off of one you can read the data off of it without any trouble. As far as I'm concerned, though, they are now wholly unsuitable for use in passports because they can be cloned in less than five minutes with hardware available on the open market. It is possible to get the chip to dump its contents on demand, and then impress the data onto a blank RFID chip, thus making a perfect duplicate. The UK Home Office went on the record as stating that this would still make it impossible to clone passports, but that remains to be seen whether or not this is a practical method of counteriftting official documents.
Supposedly, someone found a particularly nasty vulnerability in Windows Vista, but rather than reporting it they're selling the information on the black market for $50kus per disclosure. Raimund Genes of Trend Micro has been tracking the evolution of this situation, and reports that this bug is commanding the highest prices he's ever seen underground. Generally, it is said, 0-day exploits retail for $20kus-$30kus. Various sorts of malware not yet analyzed by the bigger anti-spyware companies tend to go for about $5kus per strain.
In more Vista news, Microsoft's in an an enterprise-ready buzzword-compliant pickle because SQLserver Express, used by thousands of developers, isn't compatible with Windows Vista, which puts many commercial software development pojects over a barrel. A service pack is in the works that will add compatibility but it's just entered the beta testing phase. In the meantime, no one knows how many companies will pass on upgrading to MS' latest and greatest, which translates into a pretty penny.
Real science in the movie Buckaroo Banzai?
Wow... mirrorshades, .mp3 player, and Bluetooth headset, all in one.
My mother's gift to Lyssa and I arrived late this evening: A case of wine from California. There are two bottles of each kind from different wineries.