Monday, August 30, 2004

Virtual Key Fob

I heard about the Virtual Key Fob through Crypto Gram. It boggles my mind that this is secure as long as you don't know who owns the fob.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

E-mail Addresses It Would Be Really Annoying to Give Out Over the Phone.

I laughed out loud at this.

McSweeney's Internet Tendency: E-mail Addresses It Would Be Really Annoying to Give Out Over the Phone.

I think it's a kind of humor that's appreciated disproportionately by computer geeks like me. If you don't laugh as I did, don't be surprised.

It reminds me of my search for a domain name many moons ago. One of my criteria was that it be unambiguous when spoken. I still end up spelling it out, though.

Saturday, August 28, 2004


I watched "Underworld," and I'm glad that I did not pay for it.
  • The opening fight sequence reminded me too much of "The Matrix," but I still enjoyed it.
  • I was really looking forward to Kate Beckinsale as a vampire, and she wasn't bad, but I guess I expected more.
  • No explanation of immortal abilities. Are the vampires in this movie susceptible to silver, or just the werewolves?
  • I actually rolled my eyes at how the villain bought it in the end. It's a ridiculously unrealistic way to go, and this movie wasn't holding me as well as "Kill Bill," or even "Johnny Mnemonic," where I'd seen it before.
  • I'm getting a little sick of "cool" movies where the characters are so cool that they act as if they're playing poker all the time. No reactions!
I was going to watch "Resident Evil" next, but I could tell early that it would also be a disappointment. I won't subject myself to two in a row like that.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Hermit T. Baptist

Akma's Random Thoughts has a post titled "Dear John" about the recent discovery of a cave that may have belonged to John the Baptist. It basically says that to claim that this place was home of the John the Baptist is to leap to a conclusion not supported.
It’s all circumstantial evidence, no positive evidence (as far as I've seen); and though we wouldn't expect to see a stone at the entrance of the cave saying “937 Hermit Drive, Home of John the Baptist,” we have no particular reason to think that this was John’s own actual cave as opposed to the cave of some other hermit who might have looked like John, or a cave that some post-Johannine Baptists used for memorializing John. “Man with wild hair and carrying a staff”? Must be John the Baptist!
It also links to Mark Goodacre's entry which quotes Todd Bolen pointing out that there is a book for sale, and that's why this cave is being connected to the famous biblical figure.
If this was just another Iron Age cistern used by hermits in a later period, no one would care about it. But if it's identified with an important, and little-known, biblical figure as John the Baptist, the potential attention is profound and book sales multiplied.
I think it's sad that people's interest in the Bible is being exploited this way.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Top Ten Ways New York Is Preparing For the RNC

I submitted a few items to the "Top Ten Ways New York Is Preparing For the Republican National Convention" topic on the Late Show Top Ten Contest:
  • A truckload of dirt, a truckload of water, and a whole lot of slings.
  • Hip waders and nose clips for everyone!
  • Move the money to the breadbox and move the mouse trap to the pocket.

Fish names.

Fish are decorations. You can't play with them much or interact with them much. There's a little there, but not enough for me to think of them as pets. Your mileage may vary, and it's possible I'm just missing the point.

In any case, my observation of fish as decorations has lead me to the perfect names for a pair of fish: Art, and Deco (short for decoration).

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


We went to the Brookfield Zoo on Sunday. Some highlights:
  1. A cow tried to eat my shirt. I feared briefly that my souvenir from the zoo would be a shirt with one sleeve torn off. Bystanders laughed when I asked the cow, "don't they feed you?"
  2. The last time we were there, my daughter sat on my shoulders with her pacifier and stuck her fingers in my mouth and nose. This time she sat on my shoulders and encouraged me to climb on the rails so she could get closer to the polar bears.
  3. Chipmunks and squirrels are almost as exciting as ibex and rhinoceros. Some think it's funny to call the chipmunks "chickmice."
  4. When you buy a drink at the zoo, they won't give you a straw, and there's a sign that says they could be dangerous. We brought our own straws because Mom can't drink anything otherwise.

Blogger ate my homework.

I had a sweet little post about a trip to the zoo, and when I politely asked Blogger to publish it, the ravenous software scarfed it instead. I look now at my list of available posts, and it's there, sans all the carefully thought-out editing changes I made between when I barfed it into a draft and crafted it into the blogorific gold you're used to reading from me.

So now I'm whining about it.

Drug Curbs Laughing, Crying Bursts

Pseudobulbar affect is one of several terms to describe uncontrolled laughing or crying at inappropriate times. It's associated with neurological disorders such as ALS. In my news alert today was a story about a company who says their drug curbs pseudobulbar affect.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

An old work memory.

I used to work at a place that was perverse in its management. When I started there, I was young and idealistic. I didn't understand Dilbert. After working there, I got the joke, and I made the jokes, and I was described as sardonic by someone with a better vocabulary than mine.

I worked for peanuts compared to my value, and I lived cheap. After getting a couple of raises, my expenses hadn't changed much. My bank account swelled.

One day, Management decides that the payroll is an expense too large, and they tell the employees to be careful about working overtime. While relaying this, a middle manager suggested that I need to learn to live within my means.

In response, I pulled from my bag my last paycheck, uncashed. Then I pulled out two more. I hadn't deposited any of the company's money for over a month and a half.

I told him that I worked overtime because the tasks assigned to me required it, not because I needed the money.

I heard later that a less valuable employee had been stopped in the hall for a discussion of his two minutes of overtime in the previous two week pay period. I didn't ask how long the discussion was, but I assume it was longer than two minutes.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Effectiveness of greylisting and SPF.

Last week I implemented SPF checking and greylisting on my inbound SMTP connections, and I've seen a huge effect on my incoming spam.

The greylisting daemon looks at the incoming IP address, and the envelope sender/recipient. For each unique instance of those three values, it blocks the email for five minutes with a temporary rejection. A normal mail server keeps trying, and the email is successfully delivered. Spammers usually just move on to the next target.

SPF is a way to check for email address forgery. When an email claims to be from a domain that supports SPF, I can tell whether it's legitimate.

My old content filtering mechanisms are still in place, but with a lot less work to do. My last line of defense is TMDA, which places the emails it blocks into a pending queue. I looked at how many messages it held each day in the last two weeks, and this is what I found:
Aug  2:  919

Aug 3: 609
Aug 4: 1718
Aug 5: 1025
Aug 6: 1194
Aug 7: 1274
Aug 8: 600
Aug 9: 733
Aug 10: 721
Aug 11: 957
Aug 12: 393

Aug 13: 115
Aug 14: 76
Aug 15: 67
August 11 and 12 is when I was making the changes. The sharp drop at August 8 is because I wrote something to drop duplicate messages.

None of this does anything to stop backscatter, but that has died down to only about 500 per day, and they're easy to detect anyway. Perhaps enough other sites are moving to SPF now that either spammers have decided to stop using my (SPF-enabled) domain on their emails, or a lot more of their spam is getting blocked by the SPF-aware recipients. Either way, I'm glad for the low tide.

Low tech security

We spent the night in the emergency room a while back. On the way home, my delirious sleep-deprived brain came up with this tiny observation, and we collapsed into bed like sequoias getting the axe.

While at the hospital, I got a name tag stuck to my shirt to show that I was a visitor (not a patient), kind of like those "HELLO, my name is" stickers you get at parties full of strangers, but this one was just plain white. It said on it that I was a visitor.

Days later, I noticed that name tag stuck to some of the debris beside my bed. It had changed. It was now covered in diagonal pink stripes. This name tag, this visitor pass, had expired.

I find this clever, so I'm sharing.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Re: FW: Mind Game (fwd)

I got this chain letter in my mailbox a while back, and I took the time to deconstruct the "trick" involved. As I write this, a quick Google search turns up one other "debunking" and three other sites propagating the silliness as-is. There are more than that, probably, but those are what I hit first.

Think of a number from 1 to 10

This can be random, but lots of people think of three for some reason. It doesn't matter what you pick because of the steps that come next.

Multiply that number by 9

Nine is special.

If the number is a 2-digit number, add the digits together

When you multiply by nine, the digits of the result always add up to nine (or a multiple of nine). Yo, check it:
1 x  9 = 09   0 + 9 = 9

2 x 9 = 18 1 + 8 = 9
3 x 9 = 27 2 + 7 = 9
4 x 9 = 36 3 + 6 = 9
5 x 9 = 45 4 + 5 = 9
6 x 9 = 54 5 + 4 = 9
7 x 9 = 63 6 + 3 = 9
8 x 9 = 72 7 + 2 = 9
9 x 9 = 81 8 + 1 = 9
9 x 10 = 90 9 + 0 = 9
This simple rule helped me learn my multiplication tables. Any time I had to multiply by nine, I had a way to check the result. Is the sum of the digits a multiple of nine?

Now subtract 5

9 - 5 = 4

Determine which letter in the alphabet corresponds to the number you ended up with (example: 1=a, 2=b, 3=c, etc.)

Always get D.

Think of a country that starts with that letter.

Here's a list of countries that I got in a few seconds with the Big Bad Internet. Four of them begin with the letter D:
  1. Denmark
  2. Djibouti
  3. Dominica
  4. Dominican Republic
I'd heard of two of them, and Denmark is probably the best known. This is the first time the 2% has an opportunity to "stray from the path," and it's not much of one. I picked Denmark myself.

Remember the last letter of the name of that country.

Nearly always K.

Think of the name of an animal that starts with that letter.

I picked Koala. Yahoo! sheds some light on this again. Dig the list:
  1. Kakapo
  2. Kangaroos
  3. Kermode Bear
  4. Kestrels
  5. Killdeer
  6. Killer Whales (Orcas)
  7. Killifish
  8. King Penguins
  9. Kingfishers
  10. Kiwis
  11. Koalas
  12. Koi
  13. Komodo Dragons
  14. Krill
Again, the list of animals that might "come to mind" is pretty short. I think I've heard of nine of those, and maybe three are ones I think might come to me quickly. Koala, Kangaroo, and Killer Whale are the most common, IMO, and the Kangaroo is the most common of those.

Remember the last letter in the name of that animal.

A, O, or E.

Think of the name of a fruit that starts with that letter.

I got apple. If you picked the Kangaroo, you're stuck with orange because that's the only fruit that begins with O (unless you want to think that the inedible "osage orange" is different).

Are you thinking of a Kangaroo in Denmark eating an Orange?

I got: Denmark, Koala, Apple. Your only chance of getting anything other than "Denmark, Kangaroo, Orange" is to (1) pick one of the three (obscure) countries available other than Denmark, or (2) pick a K animal other than the Kangaroo. If you failed to do either of those, you're stuck with the Orange, and there's no way to follow the steps and get any different choices. Remember also that the instructions tell you to go "as quickly as you can" (twice!). If you do that, there's hardly any chance of picking something obscure.

I told you this was FREAKY!! If not, you're among the 2% of the population whose minds are different enough to think of something else.. 98% of people will answer with kangaroos in Denmark when given this exercise. Keep this message going This one is actually worth sending on to others. Forward it to people you know so they can find out if they are usual or unusual.

When it says "keep this message going" or "forward this to people you know", it's a chain letter. This might be a good time to talk about geometric progression. Basically as the copies of a chain letter propagate through the network, they take up a huge amount of space. That's why AOL hates these things.

Friday, August 13, 2004

More than XOR

In June I posted "It's still rockin' XOR to me," which got more attention than anything else I've written and made me wish I'd titled it something better.

Then Matthew Skala wrote "What Colour are your bits?", spawned from the same silly program, but with a much more interesting perspective on the problem and Paranoia references to boot. Two months later, he gives us "Colour, social beings, and undecidability", which responds to people who responded to his first article.

Matthew's articles are very interesting reading from a "copyright on the Internet" perspective. He puts his finger on a fundamental misunderstanding between lawyers and programmers.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Feeling pithy.

Someone described my white board writings as pithy. Stuff I've written has been called pithy before, and I take it as a compliment, but it sounds like something negative said by someone with a lisp.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Bush was AWOL.

Today's Winning Argument declares Bush was AWOL. I've been mildly interested in this question, but there's always been too much smoke blowing around for my mild interest to cut through. It's nice to see some simple "by definition" arguments on the subject.

Diagnose ALS faster.

This story is PR promoting the company, but it also spends a little time talking about their method for diagnosing ALS more quickly than the traditional method.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


A stable is a place where you keep horses. It therefore also houses horse shit.

Stable means static. Something is stable if it doesn't change.

Stable means reliable. Something is stable if it doesn't fail.

The Debian "stable" distribution is static. It's also reliable, but if there's a bug, somewhere they'd rather keep the distribution static than make it more reliable. The only exception is security problems.

Of course, it's not as simple as "fix the bug, increase reliability." Fixing one bug could introduce another. Then you're fixing that one, and now we're well away from "static," and static can be a desirable trait.

Still, it's interesting, this conflict between stable and stable.

Monday, August 09, 2004

A "Lady and the Tramp" moment

We ordered onion strings, and my darling daughter was enjoying them. At some point, she turned to me with one end of a string in her mouth, and held the other end out, waiting for something. It was loud at this place, so I leaned in to talk to her, and she kept pointing the other end of the onion string right at my mouth. I finally figured out what the game was, and she had a big grin when we ate the string from each end, coming nose to nose with each other.

She did this with me again, and then she wanted to do it with Mommy. Mommy was as confused as I was, so I told her the game.

She said to me, "I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that."

I said, "Yeah, I wonder where she learned it."

She said, "I thought you taught her!"

I don't think she's seen "Lady and the Tramp," but it's possible one of her tapes has just that one part in it. I don't have any other idea where she would have learned it. I doubt she came up with it on her own.

Since the first day she played with another child, our daughter has learned things we wouldn't have taught her ourselves. We're swiftly approaching the day when she starts spending a lot of time learning things away from us, and that's scary.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Scrubbing the hard disk.

This article from last year talks about recovering data from disks that the former owners thought were clean. Two parts that I found interesting were these:
Many people maintain that shadowy organizations such as the National Security Agency can retrieve data from a hard drive even after that data has been overwritten with a random pattern. Some say that you need to overwrite a hard drive not once, but seven or even 22 times.

In fact, there is no unclassified evidence that data on a modern hard drive can be recovered after it has been overwritten with just a single pass of random information. Some have made such claims, but no such recovery has ever been demonstrated in public.
The paranoid will say that they can do it, but they don't want you to know they can. Even if that's not the case, one could argue that just because it's not possible now does not mean it won't be possible later.

I'm comfortable enough scribbling on the hard drive just once to get my incriminating evidence off of it.

Two ways to burn down the disk under Linux:
  1. dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/hdxx
  2. dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/hdxx
I can tell you from experience that using /dev/zero is a lot faster.

When I wanted to "secure delete" a lot of data under Windows (before passing the computer back to my employer, who owned it), I came up with a crude way to clobber the files I'd deleted. I opened a file on the disk and wrote to it until the disk was full. Satisfied that I'd occupied every block that had once had other files, I deleted the file.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Paranoia in the workplace.

I have a sign in my cube that says "YOU ARE HAPPY" in big blue letters. When we moved to our new digs, I wrote that on my white board in red marker.

A few weeks later, realizing the redundancy of the message, I changed it to read, "HAPPINESS IS MANDATORY", and the guy sitting on the other side of the aisle thought that someone was playing a joke on me. Someone who's not normally nearby noticed it and asked me if it was a reference to Paranoia, and it is.

Earlier this week, I changed it again to "SERVE THE COMPUTER". Someone passing asked if I was writing my white board notes along with the guy on my right. "No," I said, "I don't even know what he has on his."

I looked, and it says, "COMPLY".

Is it a trend? What will happen when I change it to some other stock phrase from Paranoia?

Hazardous Waste in Illinois

I wrote to Barb Sjostrom (named in the article I linked yesterday) about Mom's case of ALS to see if she lived in any of the areas studied. I got back a nice reply with details about where they're studying in Illinois (links are mine).
We are studying people who lived in these northern and central Illinois towns anytime between 1998 and 2002:
  • DePue in Bureau County where a zinc smelter was located
  • Lewistown in Fulton County south of Peoria where liquid sewage sludge was sprayed on fields
  • Morrison in Whiteside County, home of an electric products plant
  • Paw Paw in Lee County, an agricultural area which used fertilizer from the DePue plant
  • Savanna in Carroll County, home of a closed army depot and weapons testing range.
During those four years, Mom was living in Peoria and working in Chillicothe.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

ALS Near Hazardous Waste

First, there's a story about Studies Underway on Prevalence of ALS Near Hazardous Waste Sites in Five States, including Illinois. It's good to see this research going.

Second, there's a story about an early diagnosis tool. Today, ALS is normally found via process of elimination. Diagnosis takes a month, minimum. With this blood test, they'll be able to find it a lot faster.

Room temp to slushy in one hour.

Ever have a can of soda that's not quite frozen so that when it hits the ice cubes, it freezes into bits of slush? It's a good kind of slushy. Tonight I put a room temperature can in the freezer for a little over an hour, and when it came out, it was just like that, just the way I wanted. Was it worth waiting an hour? Was it worth the risk of rupturing in the freezer? I know not such things. I know only that I'm very much enjoying this cold cold soda.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Recent Threat Reports

Perhaps you heard or read (as I did) Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge Regarding Recent Threat Reports.

There's so much PR here that it's hard for me to take seriously. I saw on the Daily Show the Tom Ridge quote, "we must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the President's leadership in the war against terror." I wanted to see the context, and it's really not much better than the quote alone. Ridge talks a lot about what a great job they're doing.

I wanted to point out one more quote: "today, the United States Government is raising the threat level to Code Orange". This is supposed to mean that a threat exists, and the US Government is informing us of it. A literal reading, however, is that the threat comes from the US Government.

My favorite Jay London joke.

I told my father I wanted to be a musician.

He went out and bought me a blunt instrument.

He said, "knock yourself out."

Thank you.

I went to NBC's site and voted for Jay London to return to the show. Now, will I expend that much effort to vote for our next President? This is a trick question since voting for President requires more effort. Still, you could argue, it's worth it, because the office of the President provides so much more entertainment than even the mighty Jay London.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Dietary neurotoxin linked to Alzheimer's and ALS

This article talks about some more study that's been done on folks from Guam who are getting ALS at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. There's a chemical they're eating which looks a lot like some protein that we have normally. This chemical gets put into amino acids in place of the original protein and poisons the body over time as they're broken down.

They stress that the study uses a data set that's too small for solid conclusions, but it's interesting, and I hope they keep looking at it.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Safer, more dangerous roads.

I saw "Psy-ops to calm traffic" on Boing Boing, and it reminds me of the last two places I've worked. Both have been in office spaces with landscaped grounds and roads that curve and twist for no good reason.

This struck me immediately as half-thought or totally brainless. Roads with lots of curves are perceived as more dangerous because they are more dangerous. People will drive slowly on them, but that doesn't make them safer.

Consider when they get icy. Roads that are safe only when driven slowly are now too hazardous to drive at all. Rain, fog, fatigue, kids, pets, and other in-car distractions, these all are things that cannot be completely controlled, and they all keep drivers from performing at their best. Adding to the problem by narrowing the road is a bad idea.

The article states that removing the road's divider line reduced accidents by a third in Wiltshire. I wonder if these techniques will continue to work when the drivers get used to them. Familiarity breeds contempt, we were taught in driver's ed.

Lastly, I wonder if there will be other psychological effects of these psychological tactics. What's the effect of making people feel more afraid? Maybe it really will keep more of them alive, or maybe it will just shift the "accidents" to stress, heart disease, and so on.

Fetal cells used to treat ALS

This is more about that guy in China who's injecting cells into spines to regenerate motor neurons and such.

The Scientist :: Fetal cells used to treat ALS

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Another problem with my new laptop.

Here's what happened:
  1. I had the sound muted
  2. I double clicked on an MPG file, which launched PowerDVD.
  3. That infernal program somehow overrode the muting and played the audio anyway.
  4. I frantically kill the sound because it was muted for a reason.
That's rude enough, but it gets worse.

Later, I went to play Quake 2 and found no sound. I say to myself, "Self, you left the sound muted!" It turns out, though, it's not muted. It turns out, my laptop can't make a peep.

Thinking it has something to do with PowerDVD, I started it up. Lo and behold, it played loud and clear. If I paused it and tried to play something else, that worked too, but if PowerDVD wasn't running, there was no sound.

I went through the online troubleshooting steps (the ones that start with "check your volume") and got nowhere. I tried various steps of starting the player, changing the Windows sound settings, changing PowerDVD's settings, and so on. I rebooted a few times. Nothing seemed to help.

Eventually, after I'd stopped trying to fix it, it just started working again. I have no idea what happened.

I'm here to tell you.

I thought of a good name for a blog. The name is Here To Tell You. In my quick searching, I did not find another by that name. Maybe, just maybe, I'll snap it up and use it. If one of you two readers does it first, please be kind enough to give me some kind of credit when you do.